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

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!


24 responses

  1. Pingback: Wildlife – PerchSpective

  2. I think I am caught up with you again, Jerry. These are all lovely photos, especially the cedar waxwing and red squirrel.

    We are finally getting real rain here today, a deluge, after a long, hot, dry and smoky summer. This should help get forest fires under control.

    September 18, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! It’s been hot and very dry here also, but no wildfires so far, but that comes from being surrounded by water.

      September 18, 2017 at 8:54 pm

  3. So many beautiful images here, Jerry! I especially love the preening mute swan and the great blue heron in flight; it’s the feathers I like! The cedar waxwing shot is a beauty and I like the chickadee shots too.
    I’m sorry your work schedule prevents you from doing as much photography as you’d like. You mentioned last week that you are hoping to change jobs – any luck yet?

    September 18, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I guess that it pays to sit and shoot the same subject for a while, that way, I get the best poses in the best light possible.

      My search for a new job isn’t going well, but that’s the way the trucking industry is, mostly a bunch of lying crooks.

      September 18, 2017 at 9:01 pm

      • I am sorry to hear that.

        September 19, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      • Me too, but that’s why most trucking companies have employee turnover rates of between 50 and 100%. I’ve been at this company three years, they have 200 drivers, but they’ve hired over 300 new drivers in three years I’ve been there. At least I’m moving up the seniority list quickly, not that it does me any good.

        September 19, 2017 at 11:53 pm

  4. So much to think about that my head hurts. Some lovely pictures though

    September 18, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Sorry that I gave you yet another headache.

      September 18, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      • Any kind of thinking these days seems like hard work.

        September 19, 2017 at 3:38 pm

  5. Amazing pictures! It inspires me to keep trying…one day I just might get that one shot!

    September 18, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    • Thank you very much! It takes a great deal of patience to get good photos, first in learning how to, then in sitting and shooting the same subject until you get the best pose in the best light possible.

      September 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm

  6. vowwww…lovely all photographs..!!

    September 18, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      September 18, 2017 at 9:24 pm

  7. Loooooove the red squirrel! Lovely pics, as usual. 🙂

    September 19, 2017 at 6:41 am

    • Thank you very much!

      September 19, 2017 at 11:50 pm

  8. Hi Jerry. Thanks for the cedar Waxwing photo. They are so sleek – always look like they’ve been airbrushed.

    Happy to hear that you’ve sold a few photos, and have a portrait job lined up. Hope that goes smoothly it sure will be a change of pace. Maybe a good way to fund more gear. Who knows?

    Do your Autumn dance and bring us some cooler weather, willya? Oh, and a bit of rain too, please.

    Keep up your always great posts.

    September 19, 2017 at 9:16 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Waxwings are one of my favorite subjects, they’re pretty birds that look great in photos.

      I think that if I could get my prints in front of more people that I would sell more of them. They really do look much better than what you see in my blog. I like photographing people, I’m a frustrated portrait photographer, which is why I do well on birds. But, photography is a tough way to make a living, and it’s getting worse with the explosion of cell phone cameras.

      September 20, 2017 at 12:04 am

  9. I’m not sure I could take sitting in a blind for long. I guess it would depend on what was going on outside, but there’s no way to know that ahead of time.
    Nice shots of the crow and the swans. Crows are hard to get a good shot of and I never see swans here.
    I did see an eagle dive out of a tree and catch a fish but it was too far away to get a shot. You’re lucky you can get close enough to get good photos.
    I’m looking forward to hearing how you like people photography. I’ve done weddings, graduations and the like but I’m not good at it so I don’t go looking for it. Who knows, it could fit you well!

    September 19, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Crows and swans are difficult to get the exposure correct, as they are black and white respectively, and exposure meters don’t read them well.

      You were lucky to see the eagle nab a fish, even at a distance. I get closer to them, but all they do is sit and stare back at me.

      Actually, I love photographing people, I’m a frustrated portrait photographer, which is why I do as well as I do with birds. I shoot them as I would people for the most part, other than birds don’t really pose for me most of the time.

      September 19, 2017 at 11:57 pm

  10. Jerry, these photos are stunning, and I would be very proud if I had any like them, or close to them in quality. Your last anecdote reminds me of a similar incident, which turned out well. A photographer had been waiting for an hour for an Osprey male to return with a fish for the female. I drove by, stopped (we were on Wildlife Drive), and asked him when he expected the Osprey. At that moment the bird did in fact fly back, gave the female the fish, then jumped on her as she was eating. The other photographer and I clicked away furiously trying to catch the unexpected action. I think we both got decent captures. 🙂

    September 23, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! You were lucky to have caught such action, I’ve waited near eagle’s nests for hours with not a single image to show for it.

      September 23, 2017 at 10:24 pm

  11. Absolutely amazing pictures. Thanks for sharing them .

    September 27, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      September 27, 2017 at 9:40 pm