Watching to learn
Since I haven’t been out to shoot any more photos since my last post yet, I’m sorry, but I’m going to begin this post with more boring talk about photography.
First of all, I lied, the Canon 5D Mk IV doesn’t have two stops of improved high ISO improvement over my 7D Mk II, it’s almost three stops better, 2.76 stops to be precise. That will be a huge benefit when I’m shooting in low-light. I will be able to shoot at ISO 3200 with the 5D and get less noise than I do with the 7D set at ISO 800 as an example. At ISO 800 with the 7D, I see very little noise, and I’ve never used Lightroom to decrease the noise at that setting. ISO 3200 is a different story with the 7D, by then, noise is very noticeable, and I have to use Lightroom to reduce the noise. That means a loss of detail as the software can’t differentiate between details and noise perfectly. Not only that, but I lose color depth and dynamic range when shooting at that high of an ISO setting, which won’t be as noticeable if I switch to the 5D.
For the heck of it, I compared those two bodies to the new Canon 6D Mk II, and while it has almost the same increase in higher ISO settings as the 5D does, the 6D MK II has no improvement in dynamic range at all over the 7D Mk II. The 6D also has a weaker auto-focusing system than the 7D does, so there’s absolutely no reason for me to consider the 6D Mk II at all as a full-frame camera to complement my current 7D bodies. It’s no wonder that the 6D Mk II was panned by the critics when it was introduced. It’s hard to believe that Canon just introduced a new version of a full frame sensor camera with no improvement in dynamic range over a 3 to 4 year old crop sensor camera which is what the 7D Mk II is.
I had planned to purchase Canon’s 24-105 mm lens to go with the 5D Mk IV body, and I still plan to. However, my original plan was to purchase the lens first, then the camera. That’s what has changed, thinking about how much my images could be improved if I use the 5D Mk IV versus the 7D with the long lenses that I already have and use. I think that I’ll save up for the camera first, as I can put it’s better image quality to use immediately. If I were to purchase the 24-105 mm lens first, it really wouldn’t do anything for me until I got around to purchasing the full-frame body anyway.
Sigma also offers a 24-105 mm lens in their art series of lenses which is sharper and transmits more light than the Canon lens, however, there are two drawbacks to the Sigma lens. First, it isn’t weather sealed the way that Canon’s lens is, and it takes a different size filter than what I currently have. The Sigma lens is cheaper than the Canon lens at first glance, but when you add the cost of purchasing the required filters, then the price difference goes away. And, while sharper is better, I’m afraid that I’d end up ruining the Sigma lens since it isn’t weather sealed the way that the Canon lens is. I’ve already gotten some dust in my EF-S 15-85 mm lens, I’m afraid of the same thing happening to the Sigma lens if I chose it over the Canon. And, while I’ve never shot photos in a rainstorm, I have taken photos in mist and drizzle, along with misty conditions near many waterfalls, so weather sealing is an important feature to me.
It hasn’t been only camera gear that I’ve been thinking about, it’s also been how can I put the gear that I have to use. I’ve written a lot about wanting to shoot more videos, but there are other types of photography that I’m interested in other than strictly nature photography. Related to video is time-lapse photography, something that I can do in camera with my current 7D bodies. I’ve done one or two versions of time lapses in the past, but I don’t remember if I posted them here in my blog or not.
One thing that holds me back from trying more time-lapse photography is the fact that the camera and lens used are tied up for the entire time that it takes to complete the series of images that make up the completed time-lapse movie. Not only that, but I’m tied to one location for as long as it takes to complete the series of photos for the time-lapse. That is, unless I’d be willing to leave my camera unattended out in the woods somewhere, which isn’t likely to happen.
With the addition of another camera body, that will free up one of the cameras that I have to set-up and shoot the sequence of images that make up a time-lapse movie. If I were to find a slime mold for example, I could set-up to shoot a time-lapse of it in hopes of showing how they move. Even though they’ve been done many times before by others, I could shoot a time-lapse of a flower opening, or a sunrise, or sunset.
That takes me to the main point of this post as I’m starting it. The main reason that I haven’t shot many videos or time-lapse movies is that I’ve normally been on the move while I’m shooting photos. My hikes may have been getting shorter over the past few years, but I’ve still been hiking. There have been only a few times when I sat somewhere for any length of time, and even then, when I sat, it was part of a hike for the day.
I learned a great deal as I sat at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve shooting the images that are in my last post. I’ve known for some time that sitting and letting the wildlife come to me would result in better images than trying to stalk a bird or critter that I’ve seen in the distance. But, I’m also learning that sitting and observing wildlife is a better way to learn the behaviors of the wildlife than watching the wildlife at a distance.
If I’m just sitting someplace, and have the camera gear to do it, then I’ll also be able to shoot more time-lapse movies in the future, as I won’t have to worry about leaving an expensive camera and lens unattended while the camera records the images that make up the time-lapse.
Another example of something that I’d like to record is how a bird goes about building its nest. I’ve always wondered how birds know instinctively how to construct a nest, since it isn’t as if adult birds hold classes for their young to teach them how to construct a nest. Also, many species of birds build quite complicated nests in layers of different types of materials, I’d like to be able to record that as well.
Finding places to sit and observe wildlife, and shooting just still photos, time-lapse movies, and videos is really beginning to appeal to me. It must be because I’m getting older that I now feel that I have the patience to do that, rather than what I have been doing in the past. It’s also driven by a desire to show others the things that I see in nature, in a way that’s understandable to them. I could describe such things, but the use of imagery, in one form or another, is a much better way of passing along the things that I see. Sometimes still images will be the best way to tell a story, but I have to include videos and time-lapse movies in the mix for may of the things that I’d like to show people.
However, it may be a while before I sit in one place anywhere outdoors, as the cold and snow have returned. Not the bitter, bone-chilling cold of the dead of winter, but cold enough so that some snow remains on the grass on most days, and most of the lakes and ponds still have at least a partial covering of ice.
On my last day that I wasn’t scheduled to work, some one else called in sick, and they asked me to fill in for that person. Since it was cold and snowy that day anyway, I agreed, thinking that I may as well make some extra money as to sit home staring at the computer screen all day.
That trend continues, I did make it out for my next day off from work, but I may as well have worked that day. There were intermittent snow squalls driven by winds howling out of the north, mixed with what were times with fairly good light. However, there were very few birds to be found. I never saw a red-winged blackbird, robin, or any of the other early arrivals to the area that I saw on my previous day off from work. I don’t know if those birds continued north, I doubt that, since there’s still snow cover not too far north of where I live. I believe that those birds retreated back to the south to wait for the weather here to improve.
I shot very few photos, and most of those were of gulls. I was so bored that I spent most of my time checking out the huge flocks of gulls that have returned to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, looking for species of gulls other than the ring-billed and herring gulls that number in the thousands there. I had no luck on that count.
It’s a funny thing, I can sit there and entertain myself shooting photos of gulls for hours, either in flight or perched. However, I hate going through those images at the end of the day, and even more, I hate posting any more of them here. It’s all about practicing various things while I’m shooting the images, getting super sharp images with a good background behind the gull, but I’ve shot so many excellent photos of gulls that it’s boring to me other than the act of shooting the images in the first place. Still, I know that it’s helpful to practice, so I shot away even though I knew that I’d end up deleting most of the images in the end.
It isn’t just myself that’s having trouble finding more species of birds this year, when I look at the birding reports from the area on eBird or other sources that I know of, there are very few species of birds being reported by even the top birders in the area. I hope that it changes when the weather finally improves here.
I did find a few northern shovelers…
…but only a few, when they usually number in the hundreds when they’re at the peak of migration. I also found a lone female wood duck…
…which speaks of how few waterfowl that are around, if a young female wood duck is all alone when it’s the time of the year for them to pair up for the breeding season, then you know that there aren’t many wood ducks around, at least not males.
I did see a few bufflehead, with the males doing their courtship displays for a female. I tried to shoot a video, but with the wind howling the way that it was, and how far the bufflehead were away from me, the videos aren’t worth posting here.
I have one last photo from the day, of one of the many snow squalls in the distance as it approached.
I’m going stir crazy, or I should say, I’m suffering from a severe case of cabin fever. It doesn’t help that I’ve come down with a cold, my second of the winter. I know that I’ve been repeating myself in these posts lately, but at the current time, planning for the future is all that I’m able to do.
I don’t want to make it sound as if the snow is continuing to pile-up outside, but we’ve gone over 6 feet of snow for this winter, and Muskegon is up over 8 feet for the winter so far. The snow and warmth seem to have reached an equilibrium, with the fallen snow melting at about the same rate that new snow falls. As you can see in the last photo above, there’s really no snow on the ground, but it continues to snow here off and on with each new snowfall melting when the snow let’s up. It’s the cold and the wind that are keeping me indoors more than the snow itself.
You may have read or heard of the series of storms battering the east coast of the United States, maybe you even live where the storms have been occurring. Michigan, being close to 1,000 miles to the west of where the series of nor’easters have been wreaking havoc, is on the back side of those storms. That means a strong north wind most of the time, pulling cold air from Canada straight down over Michigan. As an example, yesterday, a wind gust of 49 MPH was recorded in the area, and that wasn’t an unusual day this spring. Last week or the week before, a wind gust over 50 MPH was reported. If the actual air temperature has been warm enough for me to venture outside, the winds have kept me inside.
A typical day has been to wake up to a freshly fallen layer of snow covering the grass, with temperatures well below freezing. While it warms up enough during the day to melt the new snow, with the near constant strong winds, it hasn’t been pleasant to spend any amount of time outside. While there was no snow on the ground this morning when I got out of bed, the temperature didn’t rise to the freezing mark until around noon.
It’s just my theory, but I believe that it’s been the winds that have been holding up the migration of many of the birds, as much as the cold and snow. Whatever the reason for the lack of birds this year, I hope that it ends soon. I was spoiled with one day of beautiful weather at the end of February, and while I won’t be holding out until we get another day as nice, tolerable would be a big step forward. This weekend is forecast to fit that definition, however I have to work. For my next scheduled day off, the weather looks good, but not great. I hope that the forecast holds, and that I can even find a few more birds to photograph.
As I said, I’ve been checking out the bird sightings online, and all the numbers are down this spring, both in number of species, and the number of any one species of birds that are being seen.
Well, I’ve been working on this post for so long that the weather has improved slightly, and a few more birds are returning to this area as they migrate north. Yesterday was the first day of spring, and I had the day off from work. Even though it was still cold enough for there to be ice…
…and snow left on the ground in places, it did warm up to above freezing in the afternoon.
I did see more birds in both overall numbers and in the number of species, but the darned birds were very uncooperative, except for the gulls of course.
That was shot towards the end of my day, as I had gotten bored and searched through the flocks of gulls looking a new to me species of gulls. I shot that one and included it here because I was practicing getting the gull’s eye in sharp focus with the short depth of field that you get when you’re that close to the subject, and the subject has a long bill protruding toward you that the auto-focus would rather focus on rather than the eye. It looks easy in the still photo, put the focus point on the bird’s eye and shoot, but the gull was doing what most birds do most of the time, swiveling it’s head all around looking for predators and watching the other gulls in case they had food, or were trying to dislodge this gull from its preferred perch.
I did find this gull…
…which may be a young great blacked-backed gull getting its adult feathers, or it could be an oddly colored young herring gull, or possibly a hybrid of those two species. I’m not sure how often gulls produce hybrids, but that gull looked too small to be a great black-backed, and too dark to be a herring gull. Exactly what it is doesn’t matter though, so I’ll leave it as an unidentified gull at least for now as I know of no other species it could be that I haven’t already gotten photos of for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.
I said that the birds wouldn’t cooperate, here’s a couple of examples.
That’s the only shot of the harrier that I was able to get that you can see its eye in.
There was a stiff wind blowing out of the northeast, which is always a cold wind around here this time of the year, and I believe that because of the wind, most of the birds stayed low as they were flying. That could have been a good thing, however, most of the time the birds were right on top of me before I saw them coming. On the rare occasion that I was able to get into position to take advantage of the fact that birds tend to take-off or land into a strong wind, then I was shooting towards the south meaning that the birds were on the wrong side of me as far as the sun.
Also because of the wind, the waves on the two storage lagoons made photographing swimming ducks more difficult.
The slightest change in the way that the sunlight strikes a bird with iridescent feathers changes the way that the bird looks in a photo taken at that instant. With the larger waves that you can see in these photos, even though the bufflehead wasn’t moving, the light was constantly changing as I shot these.
You can see in the photos that the bufflehead’s feathers on its head changed colors as how the sun hit those feathers changed. That’s another thing that I’ll have to take into consideration, just like getting the gull’s eye sharp in the earlier photo, once I find places to sit and have the birds come very close to me.
And, since I use a relatively slow shutter speed to shoot portraits, the movement of ducks caused by the waves made it more difficult to get sharp photos that also showed their coloration as well as I hoped.
I took some time to move to another location in search of rusty blackbirds that have been sighted in the area, but I wasn’t able to find them. However, in the swamp that I was searching for them in, there were a few pileated woodpeckers around and a pair of hooded mergansers circling over me.
Not a very good image at all, I had to wait until the mergansers entered a small opening between the trees in the swamp, and the auto-focus didn’t have time to lock onto them in the short amount of time it took them to fly through the opening in the trees. Also, I waited far too long for one of the pileated woodpeckers to show itself in range of my camera and lens, but I never did get a good clear look at any of them, stationary or in flight.
I guess that you could say that it was the theme for the day, I stayed in several locations hoping that I’d be able to get some really good images by sitting and waiting for the birds to come to me, but I never found a good spot to just sit and wait. However, it was a nice day overall despite the cold wind blowing, as it was good to see a wider variety of birds for a change.
Now then, I’ve been going on at length about sitting and waiting more often, but I’ll never fully stop moving around at times in search of interesting things to photograph. If I hadn’t been on the move at the time, I would have never captured this series of photos that show a crow burying food for later.
When I first saw the crow, it had food in its beak, but by the time I got into position to shoot this series…
…the crow was gathering bits of dried grass to use to bury the food it had found…
…carefully making sure that what it was burying didn’t show.
I knew that many other species of birds store food for later by hiding it, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a bird as intelligent as crows are would also cache food for later. Now, not only have I seen a crow doing it, I have captured most of it in photos.
A little later, I saw something else that I’d never seen before, a mink out in the open on a sunny day.
I’ve seen many mink in the past, but they tend to be out in low light situations, or stay as hidden as possible in vegetation.
I don’t know if this mink had a run in with a predator, or if it had been injured in a fight with another mink…
…you can see a wound on the back of its neck, and that it’s missing some fur on the end of its tail. Mink are extremely territorial, and one of the least sociable creatures on Earth. A male mink will not tolerate another male mink in its territory, and will seldom allow a female to enter its territory other than in the breeding season.
They live in burrows that they either dig themselves, or take over from a muskrat or rabbit, which begins as a meal for a mink in the first place.
Mink may look like rodents, but they are related to weasels, ferrets, and otters.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get photos of many of the returning species of birds that I saw in the distance, nor a photo of a northern shrike that I saw. It was one of those days when getting close to anything was tough, I think that the wind plays a part in that. On very windy days like this was, all the vegetation sways in the wind, making it harder for animals to spot the movements of possible predators. Also, the sounds of the wind mask the sounds that a predator may make, which also tends to make all wildlife more skittish.
Anyway, I’ve prattled on long enough, as my next post will probably be long on words and short on photos again. My next scheduled day off from work is forecast to be warm, but with an all-day rain, so I don’t know if I’ll even venture out.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!