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

The deciding factor

I have begun another post, one in which I debate with myself which camera gear I should purchase, and when I should make the purchases.  It was spurred by the recently announced sale price for the Canon 5D Mk IV, and by the poor image quality of my photos of the warblers in my last post. I know that the photos of the warblers from that last post…

Bay-breasted warbler

…would have been even better if I had the 5D Mk IV, but as part of the debate I was having with myself, I pointed out that many of the photos from that morning would have been impossible for me to shoot even a couple of years ago. Yes, there’s too much noise in that image because of the ISO setting I was forced to use, and many of my images that morning weren’t sharp because of the very slow shutter speeds that I was forced to use to go with the high ISO settings. But, as I pointed out to myself, the 60D body and the Sigma 150-500 mm lens that I used to use wouldn’t have gotten any photos at all, so I have achieved one of the goals that I have set for myself, being able to photograph just about anything at any time.

Frankly, the debate that I was having with myself made my head hurt, as Mr. Tootlepedal would say, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish or post the other draft that I have begun. I’m sure that the debate that I’m having with myself will continue for as long as I try to improve my images, but I do very well with what I have now even on a very cloudy day…

Spotted sandpiper

…and therefore, I should always keep in mind how far that I’ve come so far before thinking that I just have to make the next leap in image quality right now.

Added to the mix was watching yet another video on landscape photography. I didn’t learn much from that video, but in the very beginning of it, the presenter said that he knew many photographers who had bought expensive cameras and lenses, but never went anywhere but local parks because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. “Gee, that sounds like me!” is what I thought when I heard that.

I’m tired of living like a pauper for the time being, I want to get out and enjoy using the camera gear that I have now much more than I’ve been able to the past few years. Noting that I have achieved one of the major goals that I set for myself helps to put everything into perspective for me.

Yes, I still plan on purchasing the 5D Mk IV, when I can truly afford it, and not before. That’s part of my overall plan, and that camera and the right lens for it to complete my selection of wider angle lenses is a big part of the overall plan.

One of the reasons that I haven’t been traveling to shoot landscape photos is that I know that the gear that I have now, while very good, isn’t the best for landscapes. But, just as I think of the photos that I shot in the past with the 60D body and even poorer lenses then as scouting photos of sorts, planning on returning to those locations in the future, maybe the future is now, and it’s time to do more “scouting trips” which may not yield the ultimate in image quality, but would help me to improve my landscape skills for when I do have better equipment.

I think that it’s time that I allowed myself to live a little and to enjoy what I have now.

After all, if I have a good weekend off from work with good light…

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

…I do okay with birds…

Pear flowers

…flowers…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

and even insects.

I didn’t shoot any true landscapes this past weekend, as the lure of finding migrating birds that could be added to my life list…

Blue-winged warbler

…even if I had seen the species of bird before but had never gotten any usable photos of a male in breeding plumage…

Male blackpoll warbler

…before this past weekend. So, that’s two more species I can cross of the list of species needed.

By the way, do you know how quick those little birds are? Here’s the same warbler as it approaches warp speed, and on take-off no less. 😉

Male blackpoll warbler approaching warp speed

Anyway, some of what I put into the other post is still applicable because the lens on a camera is still responsible for final image quality most of the time. This image…

My ode to the beauty of the green of spring

…wouldn’t be as good as it is if the lens I had used wasn’t sharp from edge to edge as this image is.

However, equipment isn’t everything, as I should know by now. I began my Saturday, which is really Thursday, at Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan again. I was trying too hard for half the day, both in attempting to find new species of birds, and in trying to shoot really great images. That doesn’t work for me, I should have slowed down much sooner than I did, and let the images that presented themselves come to me.

Pie-billed grebe

I was using the 100-400 mm lens without the 1.4 X tele-converter, to speed up the auto-focusing of the lens and camera while I was photographing the smaller birds that morning…

Black and white warbler

…so, when I found myself as close to the grebe as I was…

Pie-billed grebe

…I was shooting at 400 mm. I couldn’t believe that the grebe stuck around long enough for me to install the extender behind the lens to get to 560 mm of focal length, as in this next photo.

Pie-billed grebe

But, the grebe had moved away from me a little, so the extender didn’t help me that much.

But, that brings up something that I need to remind myself of more often, that I should stop watching those how to become a better photographer videos that are available online. Each person presenting those videos has their own opinion on gear and techniques, and what I hear from one person is often exactly the opposite that I hear from another. An example is exposure, some experts tell you to over-expose your images slightly so that you don’t introduce noise when trying to lighten the shadow areas in an image. The next expert will tell you to under-expose your images slightly so that you don’t blow out the highlights in an image. Tele-converters are another area where there’s no consensus among the experts, some swear by them, other swear at them, saying that image quality with an extender is so poor that you should never use one. It took me a while to learn how to use tele-converters, but I see almost no drop-off in image quality between the first two images of the grebe, and the last one, or this one for that matter.

Pie-billed grebe

I’ve also stopped exposing to the right to prevent noise, or exposing to the left to preserve highlight details, now I’m back to trying to get the exposure as close to correct as I can in the camera, and that seems to work best for me.

Grey catbird

I suppose that it’s all part of the learning process to try what the various experts recommend, and to find out what works the best for yourself, as I’m doing now.

Before I continue with the photos, I should list the places that I went on my two days off. On the first day, I started at Harbor Island in Grand Haven as I mentioned before.

My next stop was East Grand River Park, the spot that I wrote about in my last post because I couldn’t believe the number of birds in that small park. This week, I didn’t see a single warbler or vireo, just a few of the typical summer resident species of birds such as robins, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and so on. What a difference a week made, but that’s the way this spring seems to be going, everything is moving quickly this year.

From there, I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, which is where I found the blackpoll warbler and was able to cross that species off from the list of species of birds that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project I began a few years ago. I also found a few other migrating birds lingering there, as well as the female rose-breasted grosbeak, which landed right next to me as I sat on a bench to take a break.

The next stop was the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area, where I mostly dawdled about enjoying the flowers blooming…

Lilac flowers

…as the birds were all taking their afternoon siesta, and I was filling my lungs with the scent of the flowers there.

I made a quick stop at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, most of the waterfowl have moved on to the north, but I did find a juvenile common loon…

Juvenile common loon

…and wouldn’t you know, I find an adult there on a dark and dreary day as I did a few weeks ago, and the juvenile on a sunny day with great light that would have brought out the colors of the adult had I seen it in good light.

Juvenile common loon

I may as throw this one in also, as I said, it was a quick stop at the wastewater facility, and I shot very few photos.

American coot

On my second day off from work, the list of places I went is much the same. I began at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, moved to the part of the Muskegon State Game Area known as Lane’s Landing where I found the blue-winged warbler, and then wrapped up the day at the headquarters area, where once again, I enjoyed the flowers…

More flowers filling the air with their perfume

 

More flowers filling the air with their perfume

…more than chased birds.

This next part may be boring to some, it isn’t really about photography as it is about me and my efforts to shoot better images all the time.

As I said, I began the first of my two days off feeling under pressure to redeem myself for the poor quality of images in my last post, although they were about as good as I could expect given the poor weather when I shot them. I suppose that it’s because I’ve struggled in the past to shoot good quality images that I do feel the need to make up for the days when the images that I shoot aren’t very good. I knew that I was going to have two full days of good weather this week, and I should have known that the images I’d shoot would reflect that.

Also, I guess that I can’t blame myself for wanting to complete my kit of photography gear as soon as possible, I think that being in a hurry is something hardwired into our brains. Brian Johnson, the ornithologist that bands birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, once told me that all birds are in a hurry most of the time. They’re in a hurry to get to their breeding range if they migrate, in a hurry to breed and raise their young, then they hurry back to their winter range.

I don’t think that it was that much different for our distant ancestors, they’d have been in a hurry to consume as much of every type of nut, berry, or grain when it became ripe, before it spoiled or was eaten by other animals, as they could.

And, this spring seems to be going by extremely quickly. During the time when I was driving from one spot to the next I heard the day’s date on the radio, May 17th. I thought back to the date of the last snowstorm that we had around here, and it had been exactly 20 days previous since we had that nasty snow, ice, and sleet storm which made driving for work so difficult for me.

I knew that things were happening in a hurry from the various birding reports I had seen, and from what I have seen with my own eyes. It’s as if this spring had been on hold due to the cold, snowy April, that once the weather began to improve even a little, everything related to spring happened all at once. I noted that I went to a couple of places on both of my days off this week, and I swear, some trees leafed out overnight between my visits.

It’s no wonder that I’ve felt rushed this year, even more than usual because of the weather this spring. Three weeks ago, the ski resorts were still open for business, and now, most of the spring migration of birds is over with. I’ve missed most of the early spring flowers, as they bloomed and died between the days that I had off from work.

I shouldn’t let the type of weather that we had around here and the effect that it has on the photos that I shoot bother me as much as I do though.

I should know by now that if I have good light…

Morning mallard

…that I’ll get good images…

Blue jay

…but, I still want the best equipment now, and I would prefer not to wait for it if it wasn’t the wise choice to do so.

However, I am going to have to wait for the best equipment, at least for some types of photography. But as I’ve said before, equipment isn’t everything, or its it?

I saw some dogwood flowers and found one that I thought would make for a good image, it did…

Dogwood flower

…which I was able to shoot by stretching myself as tall as I could and standing on my tiptoes, not a good way to get a sharp image when handholding a heavy 100-400 mm lens. I thought that I could do better with the 100 mm macro lens, so I returned to my vehicle and grabbed that lens, then tried to recreate the image above. I thought that I’d be able to hold the branch in a position that would let me get an even better image, but that didn’t work at all. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the same lighting or background in any of the images that I shot with the macro lens, mostly due to the wider field of view of the 100 mm lens versus the 100-400 mm lens at 400 mm. Maybe if I had worked a bit harder I could have come up with an even better image, but I seldom have any luck when I attempt to alter nature in any way, even by moving a flower a few inches in hopes of getting better lighting.

It works better for me to shoot what I see, when I see it…

Great blue heron in flight

…so, when I saw the heron flying towards me…

Great blue heron in flight

…I set the camera to the saved bird in flight settings…

Great blue heron in flight

…and fired off a few short bursts of photos until the heron was past me. I’m not sure, but I think that the heron had a gullet full of food that it was taking to its young in a nest somewhere nearby, and that’s why it had its tongue out as it flew.

It does take a sharp lens and a camera with a great auto-focusing system to get images such as those, but it also takes luck, being in the right place at the right time. I got the heron flying into the early morning sun, great light to begin with, and the heron’s pupils were dilated because it had been hunting in very low light before it took off. The flight path that the heron took, flying that close to me when conditions were great, was also a matter of luck.

I had two epic fails this past week, I saw a great horned owl in a tree just before it took off flying away from me…

Great horned owl in flight

…but the owl was too quick for me to get a good photo of it. I also spotted a raccoon just as it emerged from the tall grass at the edge of the marsh at Lane’s Landing, not more than 20 feet from me, but it spotted me at the same time I spotted it, and I had to settle for this photo …

Raccoon swimming away

…of the raccoon swimming away from me.

One of the reasons that I’m including such poor photos is that both of the critters in the photos are mostly nocturnal, yet I saw them around noon on a bright, beautiful, late spring day. I assume that both the owl and raccoon had young to feed, and that’s the reason that they were both out hunting during the day.

The last time that I walked the Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park I heard two barred owls calling back and forth to each other, also in the middle of the day. That’s one thing that makes spring so special to me, the chance to see wildlife that is nocturnal during the day because they are forced to hunt during the daylight hours to keep their young fully fed and growing. If only I had more time to be outside to increase my chances of seeing and photographing the things that I know are happening at this time of year.

That applies to about everything in the spring, the Baltimore orioles have returned, the males are singing…

Male Baltimore oriole singing

…the females are gathering materials to weave into the nests that they are building…

Female Baltimore oriole grabbing a strip of bark to use in her nest

…and the first year males are trying to behave as if they were fully mature.

First year male Baltimore oriole

I saw where the female flew to with the strip of bark that she had in her beak, and from a distance, I watched as she wove it into her nest. If I had more time and could find a spot to watch her from without disturbing her, I’d love to sit there for a few hours photographing her and shooting videos of her as she worked on the nest together. I’d return on my next day off from work, but I’m sure that she’ll have finished the nest by then, and be incubating the eggs that she’s laid in the completed nest. That would be a good use for the portable hide that I still haven’t tried out yet if time weren’t a limiting factor for me.

I did do one thing right this last weekend. While I was admiring, photographing, and bathing in the scent of the lilacs on the first day, I noticed both a real hummingbird and the hummingbird moth seen earlier in this post sipping nectar from the lilacs. At the time, I had just the 100 mm macro lens with me, which made shooting a photo of the hummingbird impossible, and I had the lens set to limit the range it could focus in down to the low-end of the lens’ range. By the time I slide the switch to try for a photo of the moth, it was gone.

I went back and grabbed the 100-400 mm lens and set the camera and lens for action photos, but neither the hummingbird or moth returned to the lilacs while I stood watching.

So, on my second day, I made a point of being there with the right camera, lens, and camera settings, waiting for the opportunity to shoot photos of them. The hummingbird never returned during the time I was there, but the hummingbird moth did. Even with the wind blowing the flowers around, and the moth staying with the flowers as they swayed in the wind, I fired off burst…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

…after burst…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

…after burst…

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

…of the moth as it visited the flowers, even getting this one as pollen dislodged by the moth fell from the lilac flower.

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

I’m sorry for the jumbled up mess that this post became as I’ve work on it off and on over the course of nearly a week. I couldn’t find a way to pull all my thoughts together in a unified way. There’s too much going on all at the same time in the spring for one person to capture it all in photos if that person also works a full-time job as I do. Also, I know that most of you don’t care what camera, lens, or technique that I’ve used to shoot any of the photos in my posts, but it matters a great deal to me as I try to present the things that I see as well as I can possibly present them, whether it’s a bird, flower, insect, or anything else that I see and would like to photograph.

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

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20 responses

  1. You keep on striving for perfection and your many followers can enjoy your wonderful photographs. I always admire the way you catch birds in flight.

    May 22, 2018 at 3:58 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! You know what they say, practice makes perfect, it’s a good thing that I love to practice. 🙂

      May 22, 2018 at 7:15 am

  2. I have had enormous enjoyment just slowly going through your post and looking at all your amazing photos. On first run through my favourite photo was the Morning Mallard then I looked again and really loved so many that I decided that they were all my favourites! I read the post through properly and see that you are still uncertain about when to buy your next camera. Your self motivation is remarkable as you dedicate so much time and effort into your camera work and the results are wonderful. The series of hummingbird moth photos are brilliant and fascinating just like the Baltimore oriole with bark in its mouth….so much to learn and enjoy…thank your for sharing.

    May 22, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I had two very good days in a row, which makes up for the really bad lighting I had the previous week, and my photos reflect that. I’ve taken photos of hummingbird moths in the past, but none of the previous images were very good, and they were mostly a matter of luck. By always thinking about which camera/lens combination will work the best for a subject, and putting myself in the right place at the right time, I was able to now shoot photos that I’m proud of. And, there are reason that I would like to be proud of my photos, to show things like the way that the hummingbird moth controls its wings to hover in place, and the oriole as she collected strips of bark to use for her nest.

      May 22, 2018 at 5:07 pm

  3. The amount of thought that goes into your equipment and the conditions pays off with wonderful posts like this which bring a great deal of joy and wonder to your readers. Keep thinking and shooting.

    May 22, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! That means a lot coming from some one as skilled with a camera as you are.

      May 22, 2018 at 6:17 pm

  4. Those are great shots of the moth!
    And who knew that a first year male Baltimore oriole looked like that? Not me! i probably would have guessed another warbler.
    I’ve never seen a raccoon swimming but I have seen owls flying in daylight.
    I move flowers by holding onto their stems all the time to get better shots but my camera is much smaller than yours. If I had a DSLR and 400 mm lens I doubt I could pull it off.
    Those are great shots of the flying heron and I like the fern filled landscape shot. It looks like there were some skunk cabbage in there too!

    May 22, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! The moth photos were one of the few times when planning what and how I was going to shoot a subject actually paid off for a change.

      The first year male Baltimore orioles look very similar to females, but their behavior as far as singing, staking out a territory, and trying to woo the females is definitely male behavior, which is how I can tell them from the females.

      Even with just the 100 mm macro lens on a DSLR with a battery grip is more than I prefer to try to shoot one handed, but I can pull it off now and then. With the 400 mm lens, it’s impossible.

      I thought that you may like the fern photo, and yes, there are skunk cabbage in the shot. That area was too wet this spring for me to get close to the skunk cabbage while it was blooming.

      May 22, 2018 at 5:32 pm

  5. As I was reading your post, I opened a file and wrote some of my thoughts about your thoughts.
    In the end I decided to write a post on my blog and not write them here.
    All the time I read your posts and see photos of birds ( I love birds very much) I am in awe for your work, for your time, for your efforts. I it always a joy to see them all.
    I must confess, sometimes I don’t read all the words but all the time I see ALL the photos.

    May 22, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell! I don’t blame you for not reading all of my posts, as sometime I can be quite boring. However, if you enjoy the images and the birds, then that’s a good thing, as that’s what I’m really trying to do, acquaint people with the nature that I see here.

      May 22, 2018 at 6:19 pm

      • They are not boring, but sometimes, if I am tired (I use to read other blogs during the evening) I am not able to understand all the English words and I have to search, to translate them, and come back and this can be hard sometimes. I suppose this is not he case of those who speak English very well.

        May 22, 2018 at 6:43 pm

      • English is an odd language, as the meanings of words vary so much depending on where a person is from. Also, I’m far from being a good writer, as my train of thought tends to jump all over the place all the time.

        May 23, 2018 at 1:53 pm

  6. These are awesome captures, Jerry! As to equipment and “everyone’s” advice, it is confusing. And costly, so we don’t want to spend our hard earned money on a piece that we find ourselves not happy with. You talked about teleconverters. I almost never take my 1.7x teleconverter off my 70-200mm lens. I’ve compared with and without the teleconverter on my own images and am more happy to be closer to the subject and use my skills to get the shot in focus. Of course, birds don’t stay still, lol. Anyway, I am ALWAYS confused on what I want next. Good luck on your choices! 🙂

    May 23, 2018 at 8:00 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! If I had known what I know now when I first began acquiring cameras and lenses, I would have done things a bit differently I think, but overall, I’m happy with most of the items I’ve purchased.

      The secret to tele-converters is to use them behind a good, sharp lens in the first place, and most 70-200 mm lenses are the best of most of the lens manufacturer’s lenses. You can’t put one behind a junk lens and expect great results. And, proof of that is the exceptional images that you’re able to get with your outfit.

      May 23, 2018 at 1:59 pm

  7. You explained very clearly the hard choices most people like you and many of your followers, including myself, have to face in purchasing and using equipment. I often see crowds of photographers gathered around a Snowy Owl, as one example, brandishing those big long white lenses mounted on tripods, and I wonder if they truly take pictures that are any better than those that I see here!

    May 23, 2018 at 9:24 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I run into some photographers who are very good using all that expensive gear, but many others aren’t very good photographers. As I was photographing snowy owls last fall, there was some one there with a brand new Nikon D850 and 500 mm lens, and they had no idea how to change any of the settings for the camera or lens, and they were struggling mightily to get any image at all. I think that the real secret to good photography is to shoot so often that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing to the degree that it distracts you from the subject.

      May 23, 2018 at 2:04 pm

      • You are right of course. Equipment is the means, not the end.

        May 25, 2018 at 6:55 am

  8. I admire your skill in photography and I also admire your honesty in choosing to show shots that don’t work or are less than perfect. I am interested in the arguments you put forward for using one type of lens/camera above another and the problems you face in trying to get as good a shot of your subject as you can. The shots you post in your blog are beautiful and I enjoy learning about the creatures you see on your days off. I am so pleased that this year you are able to get out and see at least some of the change the Spring brings with it and aren’t ill in hospital like last year.
    Keep up the good work, Jerry – I am sure whatever happens you will continue to bring pleasure to your followers.

    May 25, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I do dwell on photography more than I should, but until I complete my kit and I’ve mastered it, I’m afraid that I will continue to spend too much time discussing it. It does lead to better photos though, that show every one the things that I see much better than I used to be able to show them, so that’s progress at least. And, I don’t mind sharing a bad photo if it helps to tell a story, heck, most of my posts from several years ago were full of poor images.

      My health is much better than last year, something that I’m very thankful of, but one of the things about getting older is that it takes forever to fully recover. I ope to get out more often this year and get back to completely normal by the time that fall arrives.

      May 26, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      • Good!

        May 26, 2018 at 1:18 pm