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

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!

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25 responses

  1. Reblogged this on Blog Pad 2017.

    September 13, 2017 at 7:57 am

  2. All wonderful photos as usual but the foggy sunrise, the water drops and the Virginia creeper photos tick my boxes! I have tricky eyesight and it’s brilliant for me to see the detail in your photos and the colours – so all your reading, learning, experimenting and expertise makes me a very happy viewer.

    September 13, 2017 at 8:45 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I will continue to do my best to bring the natural world to life for all the nice people such as yourself who take the time to comment on my ramblings.

      September 13, 2017 at 8:59 am

      • That’s all I wanted to read! Keep taking your beautiful photographs for everyone to enjoy.

        September 14, 2017 at 11:26 am

  3. I’m always amazed at the colors in your photos. Guess I don’t stop and look at anything long enough for such an array of hues to register in my brain.

    Seems like summer is rushing to a close doesn’t it? It’s starting to see blasts of fall color like that Virginia creeper, but I notice every day how the trees seem to be losing their lush green color, replaced with a grayish-green.

    Always amazing to see how many Sandhills you see. Love those in-flight shots.

    September 13, 2017 at 9:02 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I think that along with excellent depth perception, that I see colors better than many people. That’s how I spot birds and other wildlife most people miss. Anyway, because I can see those colors, I try to capture them as well as I can in my photos.

      Summer is about over, I think that I’ll start my color tours a week early this year because of that.

      I see several small flocks of sandhill cranes most days on my way to Detroit and back, they’re everywhere these days, a good thing to see and hear.

      September 13, 2017 at 9:10 pm

  4. Amazing shots!

    September 13, 2017 at 11:11 am

    • Thank you very much!

      September 13, 2017 at 9:12 pm

  5. Wonderful photographs, I especially enjoyed the water drops on a leaf and the sandhill cranes in flight particularly the last one.

    September 13, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! Just another two weeks of photos of what I see around here.

      September 13, 2017 at 9:13 pm

  6. SunFreeStar

    Thank you again for such great pictures and details. The sunrises are amazing and the detail of the blue on the Grackles, like the light behind the orange leaves showing us a little bit of autumn.And all the rest too.

    September 13, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    • Thank you again! One of these days I’ll catch another good sunrise, that one was rather ho-hum compared to some. I tried to get in a good position to catch the colors of the grackles, but they were scared off before I could really photograph them well.

      September 13, 2017 at 9:17 pm

  7. Your remarks about the difference between what the camera sees and what the eye sees are very pertinent. I have learned that lesson the hard way with many missed opportunities for good shots because I was shooting what I saw and not what what I wanted to see.

    September 13, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! It’s a hard thing to do, see as the camera does rather than hope that the camera sees what we see, but we have to learn how to do it, at least I do.

      September 13, 2017 at 9:18 pm

  8. You do get some beautiful sunrises there. The flatness must have a lot to do with it.
    That’s a lot of swallows. I’d rather see one taken from a large flock like that than lose a bird that you see one or two of in a lifetime, if you’re lucky. Nature provides and it knows what it is doing.
    I like the shots of the great egret, which is a bird I’ve never seen.
    Great shots of the turkey vulture too. I was astounded by how big those birds were when I finally saw them up close.
    That’s interesting how the sunlight spotlighted the Virginia creeper and nothing else. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

    September 13, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I don’t know if the flatness of the area has anything to do with the sunrises, I suspect that it’s more likely that being close to Lake Michigan, the water of which was much warmer than the air that morning, has a lot more to do with it. Being almost surrounded by large bodies of water that can drastically alter the weather up to and including if there are clouds and what kinds, is something we have to live with here. It’s almost like living on a very large island.

      Yes, if a predator is going to kill something, it’s better if the something is a common species rather than a rare one. Also, even with the huge number of insects there, the swallows could eventually run out of food if a few didn’t fail to make it each year.

      The great egrets aren’t common here except in the spring and fall during migration. I see them once in a while during the summer, but in the fall, it’s not unusual to see a flock of up to a dozen of them. That’s the photo I’d love to shoot, but haven’t pulled off yet.

      The vultures are huge, almost as large as a bald eagle. They get a bad rap though because they eat carrion, but something has to do it.

      I walked around the tree twice, moving closer and farther away as I did to get that shot of the Virginia creeper, one time when “working the scene” paid off for me.

      September 13, 2017 at 10:09 pm

  9. Jerry, some of these photos are truly exceptional, like the one of the hawk killing the swallow. I don’t know how you manage to capture so many different species of birds and still have time for landscapes and flowers. You set a very high standard to follow, for people like me anyway.

    September 13, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I’m not trying to set standards, except for myself, and trying to get the best images that I can. Getting so many birds and other subjects is easy, if you have no life other than photography, which applies to me right now, there’s nothing I’d rather do.

      September 13, 2017 at 9:34 pm

  10. I love seeing the colours of the feathers in that last shot of the sandhill crane. Again, I really enjoy the shots you share with us because of the detail they show and also the way your photographs point out the behavioural traits of the birds and other creatures you see.

    September 14, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I am doing well with my still photos, but I could do better showing behavior if I could learn to shoot better videos. I’ll continue shooting stills as I work on my videos.

      September 14, 2017 at 10:00 pm

  11. Great shot of the Merlin!

    September 19, 2017 at 6:53 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      September 19, 2017 at 11:50 pm

  12. Beautiful images, Jerry! By the way, the small blue flowers in your previous post are Chinese forget-me-nots.

    September 20, 2017 at 1:02 am

    • Thank you very much Cynthia! Some one suggested that the blue flowers were a species of forget-me-nots, But not which species. I assume that the Chinese forget-me-nots aren’t native to Michigan.

      September 20, 2017 at 5:39 am

      • I have no idea. They showed up in my garden one year, and I grew to treasure them. That blue is so vivid and different.

        September 20, 2017 at 9:21 am