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

Archive for September, 2017

More of the same

As always, I’m continuing to rethink how I go about shooting the photos that I do. I purchased a portable hide thinking that it would be a great way to get even closer to birds and other wildlife, but I haven’t used it yet. That’s because I have been able to get as close as I wanted to the subjects that I’ve seen since I purchased the hide for the most part…

Least sandpiper

…or, there didn’t seem to be any use in setting it up, as there was nothing in the area to photograph to begin with.

I’ve considered setting up the hide near the bird feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve…

Red squirrel raiding a bird feeder

 

Eastern chipmunk eating food from the feeder that the squirrel dropped

…but even there, I had to get down on my knees to get under a branch that was otherwise in the way to shoot this series of a chickadee eating a kernel of corn it had plucked from the feeder.

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

I take a great deal of pride in the fact that 99.9% of the photos that have appeared here in my blog were shot totally in the wild, not at a rehab facility or zoo, nor at a feeding station of any kind. When I do post such photos, as these last few, I tell every one that they were shot at or near a feeder. Shooting such photos is a pleasant way to spend a slow day when I’m not seeing anything in the wild, and they also show me what’s possible with the equipment that I have. However, I’m usually able to do as well or better in the wild, given enough time.

Chipping sparrow

That was shot on the day that I went to Ionia, Michigan, to photograph the historic buildings there.

I will say this about shooting near the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, most of the time, I get cleaner backgrounds as I can pick and choose when I shoot, whereas when I’m shooting birds in the wild, my photos are more likely to be like the one of the chipping sparrow, with a cluttered foreground and background. The experts want a clean foreground and background, however, in the photo of the sparrow, you can see the type of seeds that it was eating. There’s something to be said for both types of photos. In the clean photos, all of some one’s focus is on the bird itself, while in the cluttered photos, people can gain insight as to the habitat that the bird lives in, and as in the case with the sparrow, what it prefers to eat.

Sometimes, as in this recent image…

Cedar waxwing

…I luck out and get the best of both worlds. The leaves frame the waxwing nicely, without being too busy, that may be as close to the perfect image as I have shot up until this point.

I should break down and set-up the portable hide one of these days just to see how well it works, and how I can best employ it, especially to shoot videos. I would like to shoot more videos, as they show the behavior of birds and other wildlife better than still photos in some ways, in other ways, still photos are better, but I’d like to be able to choose the best method depending on the situation at the time.

The still photos of the swallows from the last post are okay, but a video of that many swallows in flight, showing how they avoid running into each other, and hearing them chattering away to one another, would have been a great companion to the still photos. Maybe I’ll get around to doing that this coming weekend.

However, I still have the new to me 16-35 mm lens to play with more, learning how to make use of it in the best ways, and learning to use the 7D camera for landscapes, rather than the 60D camera that I have still being using for them. That applies to macros as well, I have to use the 7D more often, as it renders superior images than the 60D does. Not by much, but there’s enough of a difference that I can see it well enough as I view the images full screen on my computer, and definitely in any prints that I make.

I think that another weekend of using the new 16-35 mm lens will confirm what I’ve been thinking of doing as far as other new wide-angle lenses for the crop sensor 7D camera. I was planning on purchasing a full frame camera, but those plans have been changed by the poor sensor in the new Canon 6D Mk II, and by the detail that I can see in the prints that I’ve made of images shot with the 7D. Plus, I can make images very close to what people who use the very high-resolution camera can make, if I shoot more panoramas using a very sharp lens. I don’t want to get that far into the technical details involving pixel density or the nodal point of a lens, but it’s pixel density that determines the resolution in the final print, and the pixel density of the 7D comes very close to matching that of the high-resolution full frame cameras.

So, if I were to shoot two images of a scene while zoomed in slightly, then stitch the two images together to form a panorama to show the entire scene in one image, I would come very close to duplicating a single image shot with a full frame camera as far as resolution and details. But, I would have to determine the nodal point of the lens as it is set-up on my tripod to create the best panoramas.

To that end, I’ve reconsidered purchasing Canon’s 24-105 mm lens, as the new version isn’t that much sharper than the old version, and besides, I wanted that focal length for a full frame camera, not the crop sensor 7D. Instead, I’m thinking of saving $200 by purchasing the sharper Canon 24-70 mm lens, knowing that I may well need to carry my 70-200 mm lens at times for landscapes. In a pinch, I could use the 70-200 mm lens as a wildlife lens by using the tele-converters that I already own behind it to make it either a 280 mm lens at its longest, or a 400 mm lens, depending on the extender that I use. It would depend on the situation, if my plan was to shoot wildlife with the possibilities of a landscape photo, then I’d carry the 100-400 mm lens, and skip the focal lengths between 70 mm and 100 mm as it wouldn’t be that big of a deal anyway.

But, if I’m out to shoot landscapes with the possibilities of a wildlife or bird photos, and there almost always is that possibility, I could make do with the 70-200 mm lens and extenders. I used the 70-200 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter to get my best ever image of a bald eagle in flight, so I wouldn’t be giving up much by using that lens.

Shifting gears, I’m learning that an image as seen on my computer doesn’t always make a great print when I print the image to a large size. That’s okay, I sort of expected that from the research that I had done before purchasing the printer. That’s especially true of prints that I sell, I’ve had to tweak every image at least a little after making the first print to get a great print that the potential customer is happy with.

Part of that is because I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to editing my images for my blog, between the small size at which they appear here and the reduced resolution, I don’t have to spend as much time making an image perfect if it’s only going to appear here. When printing images as large as I can, I have to take the time to make sure that every small detail is as good as I can get it, like tweaking the white balance slightly to remove a slight blue color cast in the print, or toning down a slightly over-exposed background. To that end, I’ve been working on refining my skills in Lightroom to make the best possible prints that I can. It seems to be working, as I sold a few more prints this week, and a neighbor has asked me to shoot the photos for her daughter’s senior pictures next year, after she purchased one of the prints that I’ve made.

In one of the test landscape images that I shot last weekend, a turkey vulture was soaring overhead at the time, and I thought that it would make a nice addition to the photo. As seen on my computer, the turkey vulture isn’t that big of a deal, but when I printed the image, the vulture stood out like a sore thumb, an annoying distraction which I could easily remove in Lightroom if the basic image was any good to begin with. Since it was just a test of the new lens, it’s no big deal, but I’ll keep that print to remind myself that I have to work harder to make better prints, and that includes analyzing the scene better before I shoot the image.

I realized yesterday that I continue to discuss photography so much here in my blog is because I’m still looking for answers as to how to go about getting the best images that I can, within the time constraints of still working for a living. This past summer, my work schedule made it difficult for me to be out before sunrise, or after sunset, which is why I haven’t been shooting many landscapes this year. Southern Michigan, where I live, isn’t that conducive to mid-day landscape photos.

I also worry that if I set-up the portable hide, I’ll end up wasting the time that I sit in it unless I do so somewhere that there are tons of birds around, or, unless I were to bait wildlife to assure that there would be something for me to photograph as I sat in the hide.

So, I continue to go to the same places and do the same things whenever I do have the chance to get outside and shoot photos, even though I know I could do better if I were to change things up in some ways. The alternatives would bring with them the risk that I would end up without any photos at all, which I suppose wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Take yesterday, Saturday, for example. I arrived at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve well after sunrise, because I worked very late on Friday due to sitting in a broken down truck for three hours waiting for it to be repaired. But, at least I was able to get my best ever photos of a crow.

American crow

I used other cars in the parking lot to sneak up on the crow as it looked for any bits of food people had thrown out in the parking lot, but I think that it was also eating a few ants from time to time when it found them.

American crow

Of course, it could have been other insects that the crow was eating, as they aren’t fussy about what they eat.

A short time later, I came upon a family of mute swans…

Mute swan family

…I actually shot these close-ups first…

Juvenile mute swan

…as the swans were feeding near the bank I was standing on.

Mute swan

The adult shook its head, resulting in this image.

Silly swan

For the past few years, I’ve been ignoring the mute swans most of the time, because they’re an introduced species here, and because I used to go overboard posting photos of them right after I took up blogging. Now, my thoughts are what difference does it make, if I can shoot good photos of them, then I should go ahead and photograph them. I probably could have stood there for quite a while, shooting even better images of the swans, but I also look for variety of species to photograph.

I saved three other photos from my time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but I’m only going to post two of them. The third was a test of the new lens, and while the image was good for that purpose, that doesn’t mean that I have to post it here. Instead, I’ll go back a week or two to this one instead.

Another almost winner

If I could have reached the vegetation surrounding the yellow arrowhead leaf and removed it all other than that one leaf, that would have been a great image. But, with the other leaves and their reflections, the image is the pits. The test shot that I’m not posting is similar to that one, just too darn busy because I couldn’t get to the exact position that I needed to be in without getting into the water and muck there.

My last two images from the MLNP on Saturday…

Foam, duckweed, and other floating bits

 

Pokeweed berries

I stopped off at the wastewater facility on my way home for these.

Great blue heron

The next ones aren’t great, other than they show the feathers on the heron’s wings quite well.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

I would prefer to photograph birds coming towards me, but I don’t know how to get this view of a bird’s wing if they are coming at me. It’s also a rare thing to be too close to a great blue heron to get its entire wingspan in the photo.

Great blue heron in flight

I also caught one of the juvenile pie-billed grebes in better light than the previous image of I that I recently posted…

Pie-billed grebe

…but it has lost most of the colors in its face that it had when it was younger, however, it was also actively feeding on the surface of the water, and I did catch that.

Pie-billed grebe

 

Pie-billed grebe

It’s now Sunday afternoon, I had thought about going up north, but it wouldn’t have been worthwhile, as by the time that I had gotten to better scenery, it would have been mid-morning already. That’s the same problem that I have every week. If I’m going to travel any farther away from home than Muskegon, then it would have to be for an overnight trip, not just one day.  So, I did the same thing that I always do, I went to Muskegon.

That wasn’t all bad, as I spotted an eagle soon after I arrived.

Bald eagle

Along with another photographer nearby, I sat and waited, and waited, until the eagle decided that it was time to move on. When it did, it didn’t do any of the pre-flight things that a an eagle typically does before take off, it jumped up as if it had been startled by something, even though I didn’t see or hear anything that would cause the eagle to act as it did.

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle taking off

Early morning light is very good for most subjects, but I don’t like the yellow color cast that the light imparted on the eagle’s head, so I adjusted the white balance sightly for this next one, to remove a little of the yellow from the eagle’s white feathers.

Bald eagle taking off

 

Those aren’t out of order, that’s the way that the eagle took off. There were a few more images in the first burst that I fired off, but from the angle between myself and the eagle, the branch in the background that the eagle had been perched on bisected the eagle almost perfectly. While it was behind the eagle, the branch being there still makes those images less than what they could have been if the eagle had chosen a slightly different flight path as it dove to gain speed. I paused shooting for a second or two, so that I wouldn’t fill the camera’s buffer, then fired another burst, with this one being the best of them.

Bald eagle in flight

It’s a good thing that I had time earlier to practice on a gull.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I wasn’t going to put these next ones in this post, but I may as well. I saw a couple of mute swans preening…

Mute swan preening

…so I shot a few photos to show how flexible their necks are…

Mute swan preening

…and how they seem to be able to control their feathers as they preen…

Mute swan preening

…while also trying to get their eye showing while they were preening. But, that wasn’t possible with this pose that the one struck.

Mute swan preening

What I was really hoping for was some wing flapping action, but the one swan was content to do a single wing stretch now and then…

Mute swan stretching its wing

…while the other one turned sideways to me, so this is what I ended up with.

Mute swan drying its wings

 

Mute swan drying its wings

I still haven’t been able to find an answer to my dilemma of how to shoot the things that I’d like to be able to shoot while still holding down a job, but there’s probably no good answer to that, at least not one that I love.

It doesn’t help matters that it was a very hot, humid, and hazy weekend for the end of summer, beginning of fall. I cut the day short on Sunday, and when I arrived home around noon, it was already 81 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C), and the temperature has continued to climb since then. Too hot for me!

The things that I’ve been trying to do to change things around a bit have been working as far as better images, but at the cost of fewer photos of fewer species of birds. It involves sitting around and waiting while watching a bird or birds for the most part, like waiting for the eagle to fly, or waiting for the swans to dry their wings. I like the last photo of the swan drying its wings, but it would have been even better if the swan had turned to face me, or even if it had turned away from me, so that I had been able to get it with its wings fully stretched out.

That’s was what I was waiting for, so I was using the 400 mm prime lens with the camera set to stop motion, as in bird in flight photos. I could have gotten better images of the swans preening if I had been using an extender behind the lens for closer views of the swans as they preened. If I had done that, and then if the swans had given me the full wing display, I wouldn’t have been able to get their entire wingspan in the frame. So, for the most part, the time that I spent with the swans was somewhat wasted, as I didn’t get the image that I really wanted. As I’ve said before, the birds don’t notify me when they are going to do something that will result in a great image, so I don’t have time to switch camera settings or lenses most of the time.

At least with the eagle, I was sitting there holding the camera on it, just waiting for it to take flight. So even though it surprised me when it did take off, all I had to do was press the shutter button. While I would have liked to have been closer, I got some decent images of the eagle taking off, so that wasn’t wasted time. If there hadn’t been the other photographer there, I would have tried setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it for even better images of the eagle taking off. I see and talk to the other photographer often, and just the week before, he told me about an incident where he was waiting for a bird to fly, when a birder walked right in front of him to ask him if he had seen any good shorebirds. Of course, that’s when the bird that the photographer was waiting on took off, so he missed the photos that he had been waiting for. He was not a happy camper that day! That’s also why I wasn’t willing to risk setting up the tripod, I didn’t want to change the eagle’s behavior in any way that would spoil the other photographer’s chances.

And so it goes, there seems to be something in my way every time I think about doing things exactly as I should. Then, I come home and whine about it, and not having the time to do things as I would like to be able to do them. Then, I debate with myself as to whether I’m spending too much time trying to get the best images possible, or if my time would be better spent shooting a wider variety of birds as I used to. Also, I debate with myself whether I’m trying too hard for images of subjects that I think may sell, or if I should forget about selling photos while I’m out in the field, and only think about the things that I see in nature that may be interesting to others, even if a photo of that subject would never sell. That takes me back to the issue of not having enough time to do both. So, around and round I go.

There are plenty of other things dealing with photography that I constantly question myself about each and every time that I’m out with my camera, but I’ve babbled on long enough already.

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

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I always think of it later (almost)

Just after I had published the last post, the thought occurred to me that for some reason, I had to learn how to take technically good photos before I could shoot many of the more artistic photos from the last post, even if the artistic photos aren’t as good technically as most of my bird portraits are. I’m talking about the silhouettes of the birds in flight mostly, but that applies to the cornfield and a few others as well. When I first began shooting birds in flight, most of the time the birds were just silhouettes, but the photos that resulted weren’t very pleasing to the eye. Heck, many of my early photos of perched birds were little more than silhouettes and not very good either. But, over time, I learned how to overcome bad lighting most of the time, and there are even times when I take advantage of bad lighting to produce pleasing results.

That goes along with something else that I do more often these days, I visualize how the finished image will appear even before I press the shutter release. Not in the same way that I used to think that every time I pressed the shutter button, a good photo would result, but I’m learning how to visualize what the camera actually sees when I shoot an image these days. That visualization includes any editing that I’ll do to the image later in Lightroom.

That could be the subject of an entire post, learning how to shoot the original image so that the final result when edited later ends up looking the way that I wanted it to look as I was surveying the scene before shooting it. But, I’ll leave that to those who are experts in Lightroom, even though those aspects of photography and editing images are seldom addressed from what I can tell.

There are differences between what our eyes can see, and what a camera is able to record, either on film, or as ones and zeros in the world of digital photography. Our eyes adjust to varying light so quickly without our thinking about it, that we think that our eyes have a much higher dynamic range for light than we really do. It’s the same for focusing, our eyes adjust so quickly that everything we look at seems to be in focus at once. Because we can move our eyes around to take in the entire scene, we see things differently than a camera.

That’s not how a camera looks at all the things in a scene. It sees everything at once, and it can only be adjusted for the entire scene overall, not bits and pieces of the scene as we see it. It’s taken me way too long to teach myself what the camera is going to produce as I survey a scene before pressing the shutter button. For too long, I was attempting to make the camera see what I saw, and that doesn’t work, for the reasons stated above. But, I thought that if I got the camera settings just right, I could force the camera to do what it is really incapable of doing. Yes, I knew that there were limits, but I’ve always been one to push the limits.

In a way, pushing the limits was a good thing, as I now know just what the limits are, and how to get a good image as I approach those limits. That’s how I got the silhouettes of the heron and cranes from the last post to come out as well as they did. In the past, the birds would have been black blobs against a blown out background, but in the photos from the last post, I was able to get enough of the bird’s color so that you can identify the bird, yet it is still silhouetted against the sky or water, depending on which image we are talking about.

Now then, back to visualizing what the finished image will look like before shooting something. That may be the most important thing about photography that I’ve learned to do. Not that I’m a great photographer yet, but I have learned from watching a few videos about Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and other truly great photographers that they didn’t shoot to create a perfect negative in the first place. They shot what they did, how they did, knowing what they would do during both the development of the negative, and the printing process to achieve the final result that they desired. I don’t know how the others did it, but I learned that Ansel Adams kept charts stored with the negatives he shot showing how much dodging and burning that he had to do to various areas of a print as he made it so that future prints would be a reproduction of his original print when some one ordered one of his prints.

That’s really the key to getting better photos, at least it has been for me, being able to look at a subject or scene, and quickly know how to shoot it so that the finished image will look the way that I intended it to look when I shot it.

There’s one caveat to this though, everything that I’ve said about my being able to visualize what the finished image will look like before I press the shutter applies to images shot with my 100 mm macro or longer lenses. I still struggle when I use wide-angle lenses. I hope that will change soon, as I’ve taken delivery of the 16-35 mm lens that I ordered and mentioned in the last post.

I’ve only had a few minutes to play with it so far, but the results are very promising. I shot the apartment building that I live in to test how much distortion the lens has, and the lens is very good in that respect. Buildings are good for testing distortion because they have straight vertical and horizontal lines that can be used to see any distortion. Then, by loading the image in Lightroom, and turning on and off the lens correction profile, I could see that the building’s lines were close to being straight, even without the lens correction applied. The lens does show a little vignetting, that is darkening of the image towards the edges when compared to the center of the image, but I’d have never noticed it if Lightroom hadn’t fixed it when I applied the lens correction.

It’s too soon to tell about how sharp the lens will be once I get used to using it, but it appears to be sharper than the 15-85 mm lens that I have been using.

Petunia

I’m going by the hairs on the petunia bud and leaves to judge sharpness, as I put the focus point on the bud.

Two things about the lens really impress me so far, the overall clarity of the images that I shot, and the color reproduction. The 16-35 mm lens reproduces colors much more vividly than any of my other lenses, it may be better than my 100 mm macro lens in that respect.

Water drops on a leaf

I know, no one else would get excited about seeing green grass or a brown leaf, but those are what struck me as I viewed the image for the first time. Even if the 16-35 mm lens isn’t the sharpest lens that I have, and as I said, it’s too early to judge that yet, great color reproduction and clarity are excellent attributes for a lens meant to be used for landscapes most of the time. Since the lens has minimal distortion, it will be easier to stitch two images together to create a panorama for those scenes when 16 mm isn’t wide enough to capture the entire scene in one image.

Other good points about the new lens, it’s lighter than my old one, and both the zoom action and focusing are all internal. The lens stays the same length all the time, meaning it’s less likely to suck dust or moisture into itself as I zoom in or out, and being a L series lens, it’s weather sealed also.

So, with this new lens, it’s time for me to go out and shoot a few more landscapes than I have been lately, using the tripod and setting everything correctly for the very best image quality possible in order to fully judge what the lens can do. The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend doesn’t bode well for great landscape images though, as the weather is looking too good for that. Bright blue skies with hardly a cloud in the sky is what’s forecast, but for testing the new lens and for practicing seeing through a wide-angle lens, I’ll have to make do.

Switching gears, I have many photos leftover from earlier this summer that aren’t great, but were too good to delete, so I’m going to use a couple of them here so that I can clear room for newer images. The first is a juvenile pie-billed grebe.

Juvenile pie-billed grebe

As you can see, the juveniles show more color than adults of that species do. I was hoping to catch the juvenile on a day with better light so that the color would show up better, but that didn’t happen.

It’s the same story for these eared grebes, the only time that I was able to get close to them was on a dark, dreary day.

Eared grebes

I also have a series of bad images of sandhill cranes in flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I never expected the cranes to take flight coming in my direction, I expected them to go the other way.

Sandhill cranes in flight

That was shot as I was trying to decide which bird(s) to track, it would have been a good shot if I hadn’t cut off their wings.

Sandhill cranes in flight

As they got closer, I couldn’t keep two birds within the frame any longer.

This last one was ruined by a number of things. The crane was so close that I didn’t have enough depth of field to get it all in sharp focus. When even slow birds are that close, one needs to go to an even faster shutter speed to freeze the motion, which I didn’t do. And, I’m sure that I was moving the camera too much for a sharp image. Not only do you have to track their forward motion, but they “bounce” up and down as they flap their wings, and I have to move the camera up and down along with tracking the bird’s path.

Sandhill crane in flight

The weather forecast for this past weekend was spot on for a change, unfortunately in a way, that was a bad thing. I wanted to try out the new wide-angle lens, and I did, but the resulting images are pretty boring for the most part. Here’s a couple of them that I shot.

Foggy sunrise I

The new lens does show a great deal of promise, despite to poor subjects of these photos.

Foggy sunrise II

I’m loving the sharpness of this lens, but even more so, the clarity and color that show in the images that I’ve shot with it so far.

Field of flowers

However, I’m still learning to use the 7D Mk II as a landscape camera. I’ve used the 60D so much that it’s become automatic for me to get it set-up to shoot landscapes, not so with the 7D. I still have to fumble around with the controls, and remember in what ways it performs differently than the 60D as I set it up to shoot landscapes. I’m sure that a few more outings using the 7D, and I’ll get used to setting it up correctly the first time. Once I’m more familiar with setting the 7D up for landscapes, then I’ll be able to put more thought into the exact composition for landscapes that I want rather than concentrating on camera settings. However, the main thing is that the 16-35 mm f/4 lens is a winner, and a noticeable improvement over the EF S 15-85 mm lens that I’ve been using for most of my landscapes the past few years.

The thought just occurred to me, I could see that there are times when the 15-85 mm lens may be a good choice, when I want a more impressionistic image, versus an extremely sharp image. Great, a reason to carry another lens with me, just what I don’t need. On second thought, if the 16-35 mm lens is too sharp for what I’m trying for in an image, I could always soften the image in Lightroom later.

Okay, switching gears, nature isn’t always pretty. Just after I had talked with another photographer on Sunday morning, I noticed a small raptor within a flock of smaller birds. It took me a few moments to stop my vehicle, roll down the passenger side window, grab my camera, and shoot this, just after the raptor had made a kill.

Sharp-shinned hawk? with a swallow

I can’t make a positive identification of either bird, but the poor victim of the raptor is definitely a swallow of some type, I can tell that from its forked tail. Judging from the size of the raptor, I’d say that it was a sharp-shinned hawk, although it could be a merlin. I was able to fire a burst of three photos before the raptor landed with its breakfast. In the other two, you could see that the raptor had a very long tail, one of the identifying features of a sharpie. It’s hard to believe that there’s a raptor agile enough to catch a flying swallow.

I should also add, that the other swallows in the flock were harassing the raptor at first, but gave up when they saw that it was of no use.

Of course I felt bad for the swallow, but it’s the way of nature, and one way to keep a balance between various species in nature. In my last post, I had a photo showing a “wall” of insects, here’s what it looks like when the swallows get hungry.

Swallow feeding frenzy

That was shot with the 400 mm lens, and only shows a small portion of the flock of swallows. I switched to the 70-200 mm lens for this shot.

Swallow feeding frenzy

I tried to set-up to shoot a video several times, but each time that I did, the swallows all pulled up and dispersed, there must have been another predator nearby. That, and I couldn’t get the camera to focus at a point where it would show the entire flock as well as I wanted. But, it was a sight to see, with thousands of swallows all feeding together in such a small area.

By the way, here’s the possible predator that may have been making the swallows nervous.

Merlin trying to land in a bush too small to hold its weight

I had shot the Merlin just before I began shooting the swallows. Here’s a better photo of a Merlin that I had shot on Saturday.

Merlin

That would have been much better if there wasn’t a branch growing out of the Merlin’s head. But, they don’t stick around long enough for me to get into the best position to photograph them.

Merlin in flight

In a similar vein, I saw a flock of grackles…

Common grackles

…and I was going to go for a better flock shot of them all showing their yellow eyes and their colors, when a gunshot from nearby caused this to happen before I could recompose for the flock shot.

Common grackles in flight

Oh well, nobody wants to see grackles anyway.

I did go for a stroll through one of the woodlots at the wastewater facility on Saturday, but the only bird that I could get close to was this blue-grey gnatcatcher.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

The gnatcatcher was one of many small birds of various species that I saw, but migrating birds are extra wary, or so it seems, as I couldn’t get close enough to any of the others for any photos, not even bad ones.

Here’s the rest of the photos from Saturday.

Sandhill cranes in flight

 

Virginia creeper

I was able to get close enough to a great egret that I had to turn the camera to portrait orientation when it raised its head…

Great egret

…then go back to landscape orientation when it lowered its head.

Great egret

It was nice enough to do a few wing stretches for me as well.

Great egret

This red-tailed hawk was calling to another that was circling the same area. I couldn’t tell if they were a mated pair, or if the one on the ground was warning the other to stay away from its hunting area.

Red-tailed hawk calling to another

I also caught a turkey vulture sunning itself to warm up on a chilly morning.

Turkey vulture warming itself in the sun

I tried sneaking up on some sandhill cranes, but this was the best that I could do.

Sandhill crane

I’ll be glad when the ducks have grown their breeding plumage, as it’s hard to tell them apart at this time of year, especially the young ones.

Juvenile hooded merganser

There’s no mistaking a juvenile turkey vulture though.

Juvenile turkey vulture

Well, that’s not all the photos that I have, nor everything that I’m thinking about at this time, but I suppose that this is where I should end this post.

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


I hope that you don’t mind?

Preface: Many of the images in this post will be of a different style from what I usually post, I hope that you don’t mind.

My decision to post less often was a good one, based on the photos that I shot the following weekend. I didn’t get a single very good image, only a handful of so-so images that may or may not appear here. I spent a good deal of time looking for a Hudsonian Godwit which had been seen at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but it had apparently moved on. That’s a species of shorebird that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. It’s also one of the larger shorebirds, so I didn’t check out all of the smaller shorebirds there, which was a mistake. That’s because a red knot, another species that I need photos of, was seen there on the day when I was looking for the godwit. So I missed one species while looking for another.

Having made the decision to upgrade my wide-angle lenses rather than purchase a full frame camera, I have ordered a Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L series lens. I may have well received it and put it to a few tests before I get around to publishing this post. My reasons for ordering that lens first were because the instant rebates offered by Canon were about to expire, and I hope to put that lens to good use this fall as I’m shooting more landscapes of the fall colors.

I know that I’ve written more about wanting the 24-105 mm lens, but that was if I purchased a full frame camera. That lens isn’t as wide as I need for many landscape images if shot on my crop sensor 7D. On the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens becomes a 25.6-56mm lens on a crop sensor body, which is better suited for many of the landscape photos that I hope to shoot this fall. Besides, the 24-105 mm lens is still too new for Canon to offer rebates on it, and I know that they will eventually. I refuse to pay full price, since I know that it’s only a matter of time before Canon does offer rebates.

One of the major factors in choosing that particular lens over others, even if some of the others are a tad sharper and/or cheaper, was the fact that this lens takes 77 mm filters. That’s the same size as my longer lenses, and I already have polarizing and neutral density filters that size. That saves me the money because I won’t have to purchase more filters, and it means less hassle of lugging more filters with me. I have learned that there’s more to consider than the price and quality of any particular lens alone when deciding which one to purchase, as any filters that I’d like to use aren’t cheap if I match the quality of the filters to the quality of the lens. One thing that I’ve done to improve the quality of the images that I shoot was to quit using UV filters on my lenses, even though I had purchased fairly good ones for my lenses. For the polarizing and neutral density filters I purchased, I went with much higher quality filters, with a much larger price tag.

Before placing the order, I reviewed many of the landscape photos that I’ve shot the past few years, and I can see that I need more than a better lens to improve my skills at landscape photography. Having a new lens to play with gives me a great excuse to go out looking for landscapes to practice on.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and in so many of the landscape photos that I reviewed, I kept asking myself why I hadn’t moved this way or that, or gotten higher or lower. By the way, I chose to review landscapes that I’m very familiar with in order to make the review process more worthwhile. That’s how I could tell that I had missed the best shot possible as I settled for less than I could have achieved. If I had reviewed landscape photos of places that I had only been to once or twice, I wouldn’t have been able to see how many mistakes that I made, since I wouldn’t be able to remember how the overall scene looked as I shot it.

I know that here in my blog that I tend to speak negatively about the photos that I shoot, as I’m always looking for ways to get better images of all kinds. By pointing out my own shortcomings, I hope that those things stick in my head the next time that I have a similar opportunity to shoot the same subject, and I won’t make the same mistakes again. It’s also because I don’t want any one to think that I’m bragging, as I’m not really as good as I think that I am, or that my way is the only way. However, even in the landscape images that I reviewed, I can see how much I have improved over time.

I think that I have a good grasp on the fundamentals, but it’s my execution that isn’t up to snuff, at least in most of my attempts. Once in a while I get it right, and a great image is the result. I’ve also gotten much better at taking advantage of magic light when it happens, finding a way to capture the moment no matter where I am at the time.

Magic light

I should put myself in more photogenic places than the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but that’s the thing about magic light, you never know when or where it will happen.

I hope to have all three days of the upcoming Labor Day weekend off from work, although they are trying their best to screw that up for me even as I type this. If I do have all three days off, then I may devote at least part of one day to landscapes, even though I won’t have received the new lens by then. I’d better quit working on this post for a while, or I’ll go into a long rant about the place that I work and how they find ways to cheat me out of pay that I have coming, how they go back on every promise that they make, and other things as well. Let’s just say that I’m in the process of finding other employment.

It’s now Sunday morning, the middle of my three days off from work, and I’m about to leave to try to get some better photos than I was able to capture on Saturday. I wasn’t able to get close to a single bird, and most of the time, I found myself in the wrong place at the right time to shoot the photos that I would have liked to have shot. It didn’t help that my employer called me mid-morning, expecting me to drop what I was doing and rush in to cover a load because they hadn’t calculated the manpower that they required for the loads that they had for the day.

Anyway, this is what I mean about being in the wrong spot at the right time.

Great blue heron in flight

I hadn’t planned on shooting any photos of the heron, as the light was so wrong, but I was practicing tracking it. When I saw the reflection on the shimmering water, I shot a burst even though I knew that the heron would be little more than a silhouette.

That’s the way most of my day went, so I tried shooting in styles that are different from my usual bird portraits, like these mute swans napping.

Tranquility

I also shot this photo, even though it isn’t very good, but it does show one reason why the Muskegon County wastewater facility attracts so many birds.

Wall of insects

What looks like mist or haze is made up of swarms of insects that form above the vegetation between the lagoons and the drainage ditch that is off to the right in this photo. The insects spend part of their life-cycle as aquatic nymphs, which provide food for the shorebirds and ducks that come to the wastewater facility. Once the insects become adults that can fly, they provide food for the swallows and other birds that feast on insects.

By the way, that photo also illustrates why I’m loathe to switch lenses while I’m near swarms of insects like that. I can usually keep most of the insects out of my vehicle, but not always, and the last thing I need is an insect getting into my camera body while I’m swapping lenses.

Now then, back to being at the wrong place at the right time.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I was shooting almost directly into the sun for that one, so I let the cranes become silhouettes again, rather than get the cranes exposed correctly. Here’s another similar photo. With small flocks of cranes coming to one of the farmed fields there at the wastewater facility, I couldn’t resist shooting this as the cranes prepared to land.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I have several images that show even more cranes, but then they are overlapping one another. I prefer this one with the cranes spread out more. Several small flocks like this one came to land in a farm field where they had just shut off the irrigation system on that field. Had I known what was going to happen, I’d have gotten set up to shoot a video or two to capture the sounds of the cranes calling as they came to the field. Many species of birds flock to the farm fields there at the wastewater facility when the irrigation sprinklers are shut off, including the cranes, geese, gulls, crows, and some of the puddle ducks like mallards. The fields are muddy and often have large puddles of standing water then, and I’m sure that the birds find it easier to find insects then, along with tender shoots of plants that are just sprouting.

Speaking of farm fields, here’s my one attempt at a landscape photo from Sunday.

Cornfield

I needed an extra foot of height from my tripod with the gimbal head on it for me to have gotten the exact composition that I wanted, so I had to make do with that. Also, if I’m going to use the 7D for landscapes, as I did with that image, I need a lot more practice. I’m so used to using the 60D that I had trouble making the 7D do what I wanted it to do for a landscape image.

You’d think that two Canon cameras with crop sensors would work exactly the same way, but they don’t. I couldn’t make the 7D shoot three bracketed images automatically when using live view as the 60D does. I’ve gotten used to using the live view when shooting landscapes because I can step back from the camera and check the composition on the screen before I press the shutter release. I can still do that with the 7D, but I have to turn off live view first, at least until I figure out how to make it work the way that I want it to.

I suppose that I could continue to use the 60D for most of my landscape images, as it does well enough. But, the 7D has even more features that make it the better camera to use once I learn how to take advantage of those features. I still use the 60D for most of the macro photos that I shoot.

Aster

But, seeing the details that I was able to get in the insect images from my last post, I should use the 7D more often rather than settling for this quality of image.

Beetles on an aster flower

On Monday, I returned to the wastewater facility yet again, and soon after I had arrived, another older gentleman motioned me to stop as I was approaching where he was parked. I say another older gentleman, because I have to remember that the term applies to me these days.

Anyway, he had been photographing shorebirds and wanted some help identifying the birds that he had shot so far. So, I had a look at the birds there in that area, and told him what I thought that they were. We also went back through the images that he had shot earlier in other locations, and I did the best that I could as far as identifying the birds by viewing the images on the small screen on his camera. We also talked about field guides for birds and photography as well. At some point in our talking, I noticed the sun breaking through the cloud cover that day, and I shot this flock shot of some of the birds we were watching at the time.

Assorted shorebirds and a gull

I wouldn’t have tried a portrait shot from that angle unless I had no other choice, but I like that one of the flock with the sunlight playing off the water and how contrasty the backlighting made the birds.

After the other older gentleman left, I got serious about shooting a portrait of one of the sanderlings that made up part of the flock.

Sanderling

I’ve photographed that species before, but never as well as these two images turned out.

Sanderling

Remember, when you see one of my images that are as good as that one is, this is what I’m dealing with as I try to shoot still images.

Every species of shorebird feeds a little differently, the sanderlings are non-stop motion as the run in and out with the waves, picking up tidbits of food that the waves bring in. I should have used my tripod when shooting the video, even the stills for that matter, but I was sitting behind a clump of weeds on the slope down to the lagoon to get the stills and video. Setting up the tripod on the slope would have been a problem, and I didn’t want to spook the birds since they were close, and I had good light for photos.

Going even further, I could have tried the portable hide for the first time ever, but I didn’t really need it to get a good image of a sanderling. By the way, the other shorebirds that you see in the video and the first still image are lesser yellowlegs and semi-palmated sandpipers, and I already have good close-ups of both of those species. I suppose that I could have sat there for hours trying for even better images of all three species, but I didn’t like the background there, and the light was just okay, not great.

As it was, every once in a while, the entire flock would take off and fly to another spot close by, but then return a short time later. With my luck, if I had set-up the portable hide, the birds wouldn’t have returned.

Assorted shorebirds in flight

 

Assorted shorebirds in flight

 

Assorted shorebirds in flight

I should set-up the hide in a spot where I know that a belted kingfisher likes to perch as it watches for fish to eat.

Female belted kingfisher

Then, maybe I’d get a better photo than that, or than these.

Male belted kingfisher

Why is it that they will only hold still for a photo when the light isn’t the greatest?

Male belted kingfisher

At least this guy gave me a few good poses before it took off.

Male belted kingfisher

I’ll never be a real birder, as I refuse to try to identify and count all of the birds in this photo.

Birds of a feather?

Most of the ducks are northern shovelers, but there’s a few mallards and other species mixed in, along with the gulls.

Speaking of gulls, I spotted another lesser black-backed gull on Monday, although it was too far away for a good photo.

Lesser black-backed gull and herring gulls

But, that’s a “for the record” type of photo and to show that I do see a variety of species each time that I’m out. I have plenty of photos left from Saturday and Sunday of this long holiday weekend, and also some left from last weekend. However, I’m going to finish this post off with a few more images from Monday.

I suppose that it’s because they are in the news so much as being threatened that I can’t resist shooting a monarch butterfly if it will pose for me.

Monarch butterfly

I cropped the next one to show it drinking nectar from the goldenrod, and I was also trying to show its eye better.

Monarch butterfly

At the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve on Monday, I found a number of flowers. Of course I found them on Monday when it was cloudy and windy, not on Saturday or Sunday when I was there with better light and no wind to deal with.

Unidentified white aquatic flowers

I think that I should know what these white flowers are, but I haven’t had time to go back to the past few years of my photos to check if I’ve seen them before, and what they are.

Unidentified white aquatic flowers

They’ve been removing some of the thick underbrush at the preserve and I found these blue flowers growing in an area where they had opened the understory of vegetation up to allow more small plants to grow. I’m not sure if these are wildflowers, or if some one planted them in the opening they’ve created.

Unidentified small blue flowers

Each flower was about half an inch across and the plant itself was close to a foot tall.

It’s the same for these pink flowers, they were about the same size as the blue ones. However, the plants that produced the flowers grew to over a foot tall. I had to shoot quite a few photos to get these poor ones, due to the wind gusts of over 25 MPH coming off from Muskegon Lake at the time.

Unidentified small pink flowers

I thought about going back to my car and getting my macro lens to photograph these flowers, but it had become solidly overcast by then, and it began to rain shortly after I shot those photos. With the wind and no light, it didn’t seem worth it to try for any better images than I had already.

I spent the rest of Monday shooting really bad landscape photos in the rain with the 7D Mk II in preparation of the arrival of the new lens. It’s going to take some getting used to as I use the 7D for more of my landscape images, and that body has many more features geared towards landscapes than the 60D has, so it will be worth it in the long run. I used the 70-200 mm lens, since it is about the same quality of lens as the one that I have ordered. I’m not going to post any of the landscapes that I shot, but I could see in them that with a better lens, I get more detail in the images. I should be able to pick up the new lens tomorrow, and give it a try around home before next weekend. I’ll be watching the weather forecasts closely this week, as I’ll probably plan to go out and shoot plenty of landscapes as I test out the new lens if the weather is good for that.

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