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

I think that it will work

In one of my recent posts, I said that I was thinking of doing outings where I’d shoot mainly close-ups and macro photos, and that I should arrange the required photo gear for the dedicated outings accordingly. While I didn’t find many subjects suitable to photograph on my last day out with the camera, and a stiff breeze would have made such photography very difficult, I did manage to shoot this image.

British soldier lichens hiding in the fruiting bodies of moss

That was shot with one of the 60D bodies and my 100 mm macro lens. I think that I’ll use that camera body for all of my close-up and macro photos from now on, as the image quality is more than good enough. Plus, I have found that the less often that I change lens and/or accessories on my cameras, the less often I have to clean the sensors to get rid of dust spots in my images. Using the 60D body will also reduce the wear and tear on the 7D bodies that I have, which will help to prolong their lives.

In addition, once I have a full frame sensor body and the wide-angle lenses for it, I can still make use of the wide-angle lenses that I have now for my close-up photography of smaller subjects on the 60D body, which is a good use for them.

News flash:

I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility yesterday, April 17th, and I was able to add another species of bird to my photo life list, a Franklin’s gull.

Franklin’s gull in flight

That’s hardly a good photo of the Franklin’s gull, but what I saw through the viewfinder told me that it wasn’t one of the more common Bonaparte’s gulls…

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

…as the Franklin’s gull has very dark red, almost black, legs, and Bonaparte’s gulls have bright reddish-orange legs, as you can see.

I stuck with the Franklin’s gull, and it landed to do a little preening, so I managed a few photos of it then also. You can also see another difference between the two species in this photo, the Franklin’s gull has a larger, dark red bill compared to the all black bill of the Bonaparte’s gull.

Franklin’s gull

This gull was probably forced down in the storm that we had this last weekend, and was actually just ending as I shot the photos of it that I did. It was still snowing lightly as I reached the wastewater facility, with the temperature well below freezing still. I shot two photos to show the difficulty of shooting photos of a rare gull on this day.

One thing is the number of more common species of gulls there, here’s just a few of the gulls hanging out there.

A mixed flock of gulls

Those are mostly ring-billed gulls, with a few herring gulls in the flock, and there was also a lesser black-backed gull in the flock that I didn’t get a photo of. You can also see that the road was covered with snow, here’s a photo to show how much snow fell this weekend, and it also gives you an idea how strong the wind was with this last storm.

Is it really the middle of April?

That looks more like the dead of winter than the middle of April. But, at least by then, the snow had ended and the light was improving a bit.

One thing that I have to remember is how much the weather plays a part while birds are migrating. A nasty storm like the one this weekend forces birds to seek refuge from the weather, especially when high winds are part of the storm as they were this past weekend. I found another bird that was probably knocked down by the storm…

Eastern Phoebe

…I’m not 100% sure of my identification of the bird as a Phoebe though. It appeared distressed, so I shot that photo and moved on.

There were also thousands of ducks at the wastewater facility, but it’s hard to say how many were forced down by the storm, when thousands of ducks on any given day during migration isn’t unusual there. I was able to shoot some of my best images of a male ruddy duck in full breeding colors though.

Male ruddy duck

Since ruddy ducks are so small when compared to other ducks, it’s harder to get close enough to them to show the details in their feathers well.

Male ruddy duck

I also love the shade of blue that their bills have during the mating season.

Male ruddy duck

That ruddy duck was a little mixed up though, as there were many flocks of that species scattered across the lagoons at the wastewater facility, while that one male was hanging out close to shore with a large flock of coots.

American coot bathing


American coot bathing


American coot bathing


American coot bathing


American coot bathing

Other than finding the Franklin’s gull, and despite the large number of waterfowl and gulls there at the wastewater facility, it was a pretty boring day. The light was so poor that I had to be very close to the subjects that I was trying to photograph, but that isn’t always possible, as you know if you’ve ever attempted to shoot birds. So, going back to where I started this post, I did some lens and equipment testing to help myself think through a few things.

You may remember this image from my last post…

Herring gull

…as I said then, it isn’t just tack sharp, it’s razor-sharp. I attempted to duplicate that image which was shot with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender using the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender that I have.

Herring gull portrait

That’s “only” tack sharp, not razor-sharp, still, for close-ups and near macro photos, the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender is a very good option for me to use. Although, I may have to repeat that test on a day when the light is better. Both images were shot at ISO 100, so the camera’s resolution should be equal, but better light would help to define the details in the gull’s feathers more. The 300 mm lens and 2 X extender does get me a little closer to the subjects than the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender.

I know one thing, I used the 400 mm lens to shoot the head shot of the Bonaparte’s gull towards the beginning of this post, and also for this series, showing another Bonaparte’s gull picking a morsel of food out of the water.

Bonaparte’s gull feeding in flight

None of these were cropped at all, that’s how close I was to the gulls.

Bonaparte’s gull feeding in flight

You can see that the gull had plucked something from the water…

Bonaparte’s gull feeding in flight

…and had swallowed it by the time this photo was taken.

Bonaparte’s gull feeding in flight

What I was really trying to do was to get a head and shoulders shot of one of the gulls, but the 400 mm lens wouldn’t focus as close as required for that type of shot. So, I switched to the 300 mm lens with no extender, what a waste of time that was. I couldn’t get that lens to auto-focus on any of the gulls that were flying past me, not even at longer ranges. How I was ever able to get any photos of smaller birds with that lens escapes me now, the auto-focus of the 300 mm lens is as slow as molasses. It’s no wonder that I went back to the Sigma 150-500 mm lens to shoot smaller birds, even though the glass in the Sigma lens is inferior to the glass in the Canon 300 mm lens.

I knew that the 300 mm lens was slow, but this test really showed me how slow it really is. The same light, the same birds, the same distances, the same camera, and the same settings, the only difference was the lens itself. The 400 mm lens was the hands down winner of this test, it’s no wonder that the 400 mm lens is known as being a great lens for birds in flight.

Still, the 300 mm lens does have a few redeeming qualities, it’s ability to focus very close to the subject, and how sharp it is even when using the 2 X extender behind it for near macro photos, even though the already slow auto-focusing of the lens slows down even more when using the extender.

Another news flash:

I decided that rather than prattle on about my future plans, that with the nicest evening of the year so far, I should go out and shoot some of the photos that I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

Actually, the evening was more of a scouting trip along with figuring out which lenses I would need to shoot some of the things that I have in mind when the weather becomes even better. It was still chilly on this evening, but there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Once the wind died down a little, it felt warmer than it had earlier, even though the actual temperature was dropping like a rock because of the clear skies. I needed the clear skies for an image that will show up later in this post.

I started out shooting photos of a few places in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is my home town. One of the first photos I shot was this building…

The Plaza Apartments in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan

…and the only reason that I’m including it here is because the glare that you see in the lower right of the building was shining on a window facing that building…

Reflections of reflections

…and that led to the image above. If I had been a little quicker in getting that shot it would have been even better, as the reflections were fading away as I got the right lens on the camera and moved to the best position to shoot that image.

I also shot a few photos of what is known as the Blue Bridge, for obvious reasons.

The Blue Bridge

The city spent a small fortune on a special lighting system for this old trestle bridge that has been converted into a pedestrian walkway across the Grand River. I was also trying out the newer 16-35 mm lens and the perspective correction in Lightroom, because I plan to photograph the bridge at night sometime, and I need to have some idea how much space I need to leave around a subject for Lightroom to bend, stretch, and crop an image…

The Blue Bridge in Grand Rapids, Michigan

…so that buildings and other objects don’t look to be falling away from the camera, or much wider at their base than at the top.

While I was scouting the area, a pair of mallards landed in the river below me, and the light at the time told me to shoot a photo of them, even though I had the wide-angle lens on my camera.

Mallards in the evening

Because of the very low sun angle at the time, you can see the undulations in the river, not only the wakes of the ducks, but in the other parts of the river as well.  The undulations in the river are from the rapids that gave Grand Rapids its name, but are now covered be several feet of water behind a low head dam built to make that section of the river navigable by boats. I have plans to shoot more photos of along the river there, I’ll have to remember to shoot late in the day to get the same low sun angle when I do.

I had a little while to go before I could shoot the image that I had come for, so I decided to scout a couple of the old churches nearby. I hadn’t planned on shooting any photos this evening, I just wanted to see if the churches were worth another trip. This one is!

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

It never occurred to me to photograph a church at night, but seeing the light streaming through the stained glass windows from the inside of the church made me get out my tripod to capture that moment. However, the stained glass windows are lost in that image, so I’ll have to return and shoot a number of images with a longer lens to show how beautiful the windows are. There are a few statues on the other side of the church that I’d like to photograph as well.

Because of the way that the basilica is oriented, and the number of different individual subjects that make up the basilica as a whole, I should return several times to photograph them at different times of the day to photograph them all well. Here’s a handheld shot of the basilica to give you more of an idea as to the things about it that are moving me to photograph it better.

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

Because I shot that handheld, there’s a lot of noise in the image, and I couldn’t get far enough away from the structure to leave room for Lightroom to correct the perspective distortion in that image either. That’s why different parts of the building seem to lean in unnatural ways. I shot that one just to help myself plan future return trips and to give my memory a nudge as to what things I want to shoot close-ups of during those return trips.

Anyway, it was almost dark, so I returned to the spot where I shot the mallards and set-up to shoot a night view of part of the city of Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, at night

You may remember that I mentioned that I had shot photos of the last full moon to use to produce fake images of the full moon appearing where it can’t be except by stacking images together. My 7D Mk II will shoot multiple images, and you can use an image already stored on the memory card as one of the images in a stack. So, I selected a shot of the full moon as the first image in the stack, but the moon was in the wrong place…


…that was a little too low in the sky!

I had actually planned on that problem to some degree, I had shot the full moon at a number of different focal lengths and in different areas of the frame. I finally was able to produce the image that I wanted.

The full moon over Grand Rapids, Michigan

Totally fake, but I like it. The full moon would never appear in that position naturally, it’s too low in the sky for one thing. Also, there’s no way that I could have gotten the exposure for both the moon and the city lights correct in one image. And, I shot the moon at 200 mm and the city lights at 28 mm, which makes the moon appear much larger in the image than it would otherwise. However, what motivated me to shoot that image the way I did was seeing a very similar scene of the full moon over Grand Rapids as I was driving for work one night. I thought that the full moon shining down on the city as it was all lit up and the lights reflecting off from the river was a beautiful thing to see at the time that I saw it.

I’ll have to be careful, this may start a dangerous trend for me, for seeing that image has me thinking of ways to add the reflection of the moon on the river to that image. 😉 However, there are times when our eyes see things differently than a camera possibly can record a scene, so is it wrong to produce images that are closer to what we see in real life than what a camera can record, even if it means doing things like shooting multiple exposures? All that I’ve done in reality is to produce an image very similar to what I saw in real life, even if it took trickery to record what I saw in a camera.

The full moon may not ever rise in that position to allow me to shoot that image straight without resorting to multiple exposures, but in the past, when I have tried to show the rising moon in an image, the moon tends to fade into the background and not appear to be as large as it looks to me as I watch the moon rise.

I didn’t produce that image to learn how to create fake images, but to use the same techniques in the future to produce better realistic images. There have been several times when I was shooting landscapes as the full moon rose, and as I said, so far, I’ve found it impossible to get both the landscape and the full moon exposed correctly, even shooting HDR images. That’s because the moon is so much brighter than the landscape to the camera. Our eyes can adjust for both, but the camera can’t. I hope to use what I learned in making the image above to shoot landscapes at moonrise and have them look natural, rather than the moon blown out to being a giant white blob in the sky. Or, to have the moon disappear in the background when it appears so prominent to the eye when looking at the scene before me.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening spent learning a great deal about photography, and I was able to get a few very good images in the process. If my work schedule continues as it’s been for the last month, and as the weather improves, you may see more night photography from me in the future. That’s because I have a good deal of time off from work with my current schedule, but other than Tuesdays, most of the time off is at night, when nature photography isn’t possible for me. That’s okay with me, this was a nice change of pace from what I usually do.

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


22 responses

  1. I loved the ruddy ducks and the coot splashing, you are so clever. I also enjoyed the city pictures too especially the ones of the Basilica.

    April 20, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I think that I’m going to have to mix things like I did in this post until my work schedule changes, I’m glad you liked it.

      April 21, 2018 at 3:21 pm

  2. Amazing night time photos of such fantastic buildings and places…no wonder you are going to return and take more! Grand Rapids looks a very interesting city with that huge apartment building and the beautiful basilica. The panoramic night view of the city is stunning especially with the moon…doesn’t matter it’s fake it matches all the fake news going round!
    Great photos of all those gulls…facing the same way… but sad to see all the snow that you’ve had over the weekend…it will be spring there soon! Love the colours on the ruddy duck…a blue bill…what next? The art deco window reflection photo is rather special and would be a great poster! Look forward to seeing more ‘fake’ views and window photos when you return to Grand Rapids.

    April 20, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I’ve always liked night photography, but it was too expensive back in the days of film, when you had to shoot several frames and hope that you got the exposure correct. With digital photography, it doesn’t cost anything to shoot enough images to get the exposure dialed in just right. That, and seeing the light coming through the stained glass windows of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert has me hooked on doing more night photography.

      I’ve lived near Grand Rapids my entire life, it it has changed a great deal in that time. It used to be a sleepy working class city known mostly for producing cheap knock-off furniture. It’s now a vibrant city that’s home to many medical research facilities and other high-tech industries.

      The fake photo of the moon over Grand Rapids actually contains more truth than many of the fake news stories these days. I was inspired by the view of the full moon over the city as I was driving over a bridge very close to where I shot the fake photo from. All that I did was to overcome the limitations of a camera to reproduce what I saw that night while driving in a meaningful image.

      I’m glad that gulls are so willing to pose, they make great test subjects for me. Spring is the time to photograph the males of most species of birds, when they’re looking their best to attract females, as with the ruddy duck.

      I’m in Grand Rapids every day for work, and I have to drive through the city to get to most of the places that I go to shoot wildlife. So, with my schedule what it is right now, it won’t be long until I shoot more photos there.

      April 21, 2018 at 3:39 pm

      • Look forward to seeing those night photos.

        April 23, 2018 at 1:15 pm

  3. Glad you got another lifer. Hopefully you’ll see a few more this summer.
    The ruddy duck is a pretty thing. Not quite as beautiful as a wood duck but close!
    I like the distortions in the windows and the grape hyacinth blue bridge. The church is fantastic all lit up like that.
    I used to have fun shooting at night but it isn’t easy. I always wanted to try painting with light but I never did because I didn’t have the right equipment. All your night shots came out great, I thought. I don’t see anything wrong with faking a shot as long as you don’t try to pass it off as the real thing. I’ve seen shots that were still beautiful even though they were unreal.
    You might find more animals in the city than you expect. We’ve had bear and even moose walk right down main street here.

    April 20, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for birding this summer, it all depends on my work schedule. Doing the small amount of night photography that I did for this post has rekindled my fondness for it, I used to attempt it in the days of film. Digital cameras make the process much easier, and cheaper, than the old days of shooting many photos hoping to get one photo with the exposure correct.

      As much as I love nature, there are many beautiful and/or interesting things to be seen in the city as well. Given that right now, I work nights and sleep days, I may have to do a lot more night photography, including light painting, until my schedule changes.

      The moon over the city isn’t that much different than the view that I have crossing a bridge to get to thee downtown post office in Grand Rapids, often several times a night. All I did was to emphasis the moon, and move it closer to the builds so that it would show up better.

      There is some wildlife in the city, there’s two pairs of peregrine falcons nesting downtown this year. But, we have no moose or bears near enough to the city for one to stroll through town. Plenty of deer though.

      April 21, 2018 at 4:24 pm

  4. I loved the lichen of course but it was trumped by the Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night as far as I was concerned. It was nice to see a variety of shots in this post so I hope that you keep experimenting.

    April 20, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Since I work nights and sleep during the day, if I don’t start doing more night photography, I won’t be shooting many photos. And, I’ll always continue to experiment, it’s the only way I know of to improve my skills.

      April 21, 2018 at 3:43 pm

  5. Great photos! Your Eastern Phoebe capture is adorable.

    April 20, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna!

      April 21, 2018 at 3:44 pm

  6. This post is quite different than your others, but it makes for very interesting reading. I am first amazed at that lingering winter on your landscape, wow! Then I am impressed by the variety of your photo subjects. Those of the church at night are excellent, and I hope that one of these days you will get the full moon over the city in all of its splendor.

    April 21, 2018 at 7:30 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! The snow around here where I live is mostly gone now, but there will be parts of Northern Michigan where the snow in wooded areas will linger past Memorial Day. That makes it easier on me when I think about not having any vacation time this year because I just switched jobsI have seen the full moon over the city, it’s what inspired me to shoot the multiple image that I did. I know from experience that there’s no way for the camera to see what I’ve seen at night.

      April 21, 2018 at 3:52 pm

  7. Wow. There is so much to love in this post, Jerry.

    That Ruddy duck is a stunner. The early morning lighting was perfect for that bronze coat and blue bill. Does this last a month? Is breeding season pretty much the same time for all of the waterfowl you encounter?

    Love the reflection of a reflection photo. You should enter that in the Festival of the Arts photo contest. I went back to it several times. One of my favorite reflective views of GR is to be west of the River on Bridge Street as the sun is going down. The light on the Bridgewater Building (River House condos) at the corner of Michigan Ave/Scribner (across Michigan from the Ford Museum) turns a beautiful blue. I’ve seen it many times coming home at dusk from a west side bike ride, and it stops me every time. When you’re looking for a view sometime, check it out.

    Your fake photo is great. I’m such ansucker that I always think these faked up photos are just more opportunities that I’ve missed. Thanks for frssing up to your creation.

    For sure, this has to be the end of the snow for you. Think I’ve said it five times already, but this time I really mean it. NO MORE SNOW! Enough.

    Thanks for such an enjoyable post.

    April 21, 2018 at 8:48 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I’m proud to say that there wasn’t terrific early morning light for the photos of the ruddy duck, it was still snowing then. I had to choose images without snowflakes falling through the frame. But, as often as it’s been cloudy this winter, I’m finally mastering shooting in horrible light. 😉

      The male ducks hold their breeding plumage until mid-summer when they begin to molt, but they’re at their best just as they complete their molt to their breeding plumage. After that, as the feathers age, they aren’t as pretty any longer. The exact season when ducks molt depends on the species. Mallard pair up in the fall, so the male mallards get their breeding plumage then. For other species, it isn’t until the spring.

      There are several great places for reflections downtown, but being at the right place for a photo at the right time is tricky. I can be in only one place at a time. But, I think that I’ll be spending more time downtown this year unless my work schedule changes.

      My fake image isn’t that much different than what you can see looking down the river from the Leonard Street bridge at night when there’s a full moon. I just moved the moon a little lower in the sky, and made it a bit larger so that it would show up better in the image.

      For the first time in I don’t remember how long, there’s no snow in the ten day forecast here. It’s about time!

      April 21, 2018 at 4:47 pm

  8. Nenkinseikatsu

    The Bonaparte’s Gull is superb!

    April 22, 2018 at 3:15 am

    • Thank you very much!

      April 22, 2018 at 8:42 am

  9. This is such a different post from usual, Jerry! I love the variety of shots – the wonderful reflection, the basilica and other night-time shots and of course, all the nature photos. Congratulations on getting another lifer – the Franklin’s gull is quite striking with its dark head and very dark bill. I think the ‘fake’ shot is beautiful! How wonderful to be able to re-create such a scene! The details in your bird photos and the stunning close-up of the moss and lichen are fascinating.

    April 25, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I’ve fallen into the trap of shooting mostly birds all the time. Back in the old days, I used to shoot a wider variety of subjects. I had a great time shooting in town which surprised me, but between my schedule and how much fun I had, I’ll probably be shooting more in town. And, as I said to others, the fake shot was inspired by what I saw in real life, but that the camera can’t capture very well.

      April 26, 2018 at 6:53 am

      • I always look forward to your posts, Jerry no matter what you shoot!

        April 26, 2018 at 3:47 pm

  10. Just been catching up on your last few blog posts and had a comment for the one titled “On the Lookout” (Mar. 31st) – but since the comments are closed on that post I’ll write it here.
    You shared a photo with the caption “Unidentified fungal objects” and I just wanted to say that they look like a type of turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor), which are actually edible in a mostly medicinal sense and I’ve even seen them being added to a concoction of other natural findings to brew a “forest beer” (although I don’t know if it tastes any good).

    April 28, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    • Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog! I’m never sure what species of fungi I see are, and I suppose that it’s laziness on my part for not learning to ID them as I probably should.

      April 28, 2018 at 5:42 pm