Well, I don’t know what type of storm Alberto was, some people referred to it as a tropical storm, others as a sub-tropical storm, but no matter what, the remnants of it came into west Michigan, passing right over my hometown of Grand Rapids. The storm pumped very warm temperatures into the area as it approached, we set several records for high temperatures this past week, and came close to setting an all-time high temperature for the month of May. Now that Alberto has come and gone, we’re beginning to cool off and return to more normal temperatures as the month of June arrives.
As for the storm itself, it was a rather ho-hum affair with a few hours of rain and a few minor wind gusts.
It’s hard to believe that it’s June already, it was just a month ago that we had our last significant snowstorm of the season. Everything in nature seems to be in a hurry to make up for lost time, and I’ve missed a lot of the parts of spring that I enjoy the most. The early spring flowers have come and gone, and the early summer flowers are blooming already.
And, I’m seeing signs that the ducks are beginning to molt out of their breeding plumage already.
Luckily, I caught this handsome chap…
…as I was set-up for him to take off, but he refused to move until I set the bird in flight set-up down, and picked up the set-up for a better portrait of him. That’s when he chose to fly away.
I also caught a male ruddy duck looking his best, even if he refused to pose for me.
Okay, that brings me to something that I probably shouldn’t write about, but I will anyway. This won’t be about photo gear, but about how I go about getting the photos that I do, and why.
That bad day of shooting warblers that I had a few weeks ago may have been one of the best things that’s happened to me lately. Since then, I have redoubled my efforts to get better images of all types. I think that most people would be happy with this photo, other than some default adjustments that I have Lightroom do to every image that I import into it to make the images look like what I saw through the viewfinder when I shot them, nothing was done to this image.
I didn’t crop that, nor did I adjust the exposure, but that’s not good enough for me any longer. I moved closer to the waxwing, and by a stroke of luck, he moved a few branches lower for this photo.
That wasn’t cropped either, but I could see that the waxwing was eating something it was finding on the branches of the tree, and I was curious to see what it was eating. So, between my trying to get better images all the time and my curiosity to learn what the waxwing was eating, I shot close to 100 photos to get this image showing it plucking an aphid off from the tree, and, these next two images have been cropped slightly to show that.
I didn’t know before this series of images that waxwings ate aphids, but because of my photos, I learned something this day.
Of course I went for a regular portrait image as well.
That’s not my best portrait of a cedar waxwing, but I’ll take it for now until the next opportunity comes along.
Anyway, it was my curiosity of wildlife behavior which at first fueled my desire to get better images. I wanted to see what birds were eating and how they ate for example. Somewhere along the line, that morphed into trying for the best image possible, which isn’t all bad. I think that I’m almost to the point where I can do both parts of the equation well, capture the behavior of wildlife and produce good images at the same time.
After all, I was standing there watching one of the most beautiful species of bird native to Michigan, I was able to observe its behavior and feeding habits up close through the viewfinder of my camera, and capture what I was seeing to share with others who may also be interested in such things, there’s nothing to top that as far as my way of thinking goes.
I do need to work on my landscape images more though, and while I’m driving for work each evening, I pass a spot that I thought would be a good place to shoot a sunset or sunrise, depending on the time of day it was when I was there. Since the spring migration of birds is all but over with, I thought that last Friday after Alberto had passed through the area would be a good day to shoot a few landscapes, given the weather report.
The place that I had in mind is about 50 miles (80 Km) northwest of the city of Muskegon, which is the center of the hub of places that I’ve been going to most of the time lately. It’s also about the same distance from my home. It’s a spot on the Muskegon River between two dams used to generate electricity, not that it matters, the attraction to me is the river valley and how it looks to me as I pass this spot each evening for work.
Arriving at sunrise, I started by shooting an image facing downstream, which is to the west, as the sky towards the sunrise wasn’t that interesting yet.
That’s not anything special, but I like it because it says northern Michigan at sunrise to me. It was quiet except for the birds singing in the trees along the river, no wind, and a little mist rising off from the water. A very pleasant morning on a great day to be alive. This photo also shows me that this would be a good place to shoot a sunset from.
I decided that it was time to walk around a bend in the river and shoot towards the rising sun in the east. Along the way, I noticed these flowers…
…and with no wind, my tripod in hand, and my camera with the 16-35 mm lens on it, I decided to give the flowers a go and see what I could do. I guess that I would call that a test shot, but I like it enough to include here.
After getting around the bend in the river, I checked out a number of possibilities and settled on this one.
I’m not that happy with the vegetation in the right side of the frame, but other than that, I love this image. In retrospect, I probably should have backed up a few feet to get all of the still water reflecting the clouds at the bottom of the frame in the frame, and possibly some of the rocks that formed that pool of still water also. Of course, some color to the sky would have been nice as well, but that’s beyond my control. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with the composition and I think that I did about the best that I could at the time.
I do need to shoot more landscapes, so that I’m more comfortable doing so, and also so that I can get set-up more quickly to take advantage of ever-changing light. There’s so much more to good landscape photography than there is to wildlife photography that I need to keep in mind as I’m setting up. Not only are all the camera settings different, but it requires a different mindset as well.
You’d think that because landscape photography tends to be slow and methodical compared to capturing the action of wildlife photography that it would be easier. It may be to some people, but not to me. I could go into more detail, but I won’t, I’ll sum this up by saying that I do see my landscape photography skills improving, and that I’ll continue to improve as I shoot more landscapes.
I have to say that I’ve come to the point where the slow, methodical actions required for landscape photography no longer bother me the way that they used to, I quite enjoyed wandering around with the camera handheld, looking for the best composition through the viewfinder. Then, setting up the tripod, double checking where I positioned it, leveling the camera on the tripod, and all the other things that are required for that type of photography. I could have gone back and shot the daisy flowers later when the exposure required was less than the nearly 2 seconds that it was when I shot the flowers using the tripod at sunrise, but it’s no longer a hassle to me to use the tripod.
Oh by the way, I should add that both of the landscape images here are HDR images where I shoot three exposure bracketed images and blend them together in software to overcome the limits of the dynamic range of my camera’s sensor. I do try to keep my images as realistic as possible though, getting the final image as close to what I saw through the viewfinder as I can. My goal is that no one would be able to tell that they are HDR images if I didn’t tell them.
On my way out of the parking lot, I stopped to shoot these flowers.
There were hundreds of these trees loaded with the flowers, and I looked for a place where I could shoot a photo to show that, but I never did find a place that would have resulted in a good image of the masses of flowers in bloom.
My plan had been to go from the place where I shot the landscapes to three nature preserves nearby, but like the complete idiot that I am, I forgot to bring the directions to the preserves with me. I drove around looking for the preserves, but never found them. Retracing my route on Google maps, I was close to them, but I never saw a single sign of any of them. I think that it’s time for me to become more methodical about many things, like keeping a notebook with my camera gear all the time to keep things such as directions and notes on places that I go to, or would like to go to. Keeping that information on my computer is all well and good until I need the information while I’m away from home. Maybe I should begin using my Macbook for that purpose, other than as a backup for my iMac or while I’m on vacation. Silly me, I have the way to solve a problem at hand but don’t use it.
So, I’ve fired up the Macbook that I have, and put the directions to some of the many nature preserves that I’d like to check out this summer in the computer. I have them somewhat organized, and even went to so far as to set-up a folder that I can put notes about places and the times that I’ve been to them.
I will be going back to the same area again, as I would like to refine the landscape photos that I shot from along the river, and because I saw and heard many birds back in the woods as I was looking for the nature preserves.
Anyway, since I couldn’t find the nature preserves that I wanted to check out, I went all the way to the Muskegon area while on the look out for other places that may yield good landscape photos or were possible places to look for wildlife. I did see a couple of scenes that I would have liked to have photographed, but there was always traffic behind me when that happened, and I didn’t want to pull off to the side then.
That means that I spent most of my two days off from work at the same old places again, but in some ways, what difference does it make, other than I’d like to find a quieter area where I could shoot more videos, especially of birds as they sing.
If only he would have turned to face me, darn.
I had originally stopped because I saw two kestrels in the tree that the thrasher is perched in, and quite low to the ground. Of course they flew up to branches much higher in the tree before I could get a photo of them, and the only reason I’m including this photo here is because one of the kestrels had a small rodent that I can’t identify in its talons.
It was while I was watching the kestrels to see what they were doing that the thrasher landed as close to me as it did, when they are normally just as shy as the kestrels are. I was lucky to get the images of the thrasher, but the kestrels remained true to form and left the area soon after I shot the photo above.
I do need to work on my photos of flower along with landscape photos, I’m happy with the iris themselves in these two photos…
…but I’m not at all happy with the background…
…as the washed out green of the grass in the background distracts from the beauty of the flowers. If it wasn’t for the background, I’d say that those are my two best images of an iris ever, as I nailed the focus point for a sharp image that shows the translucent beauty of the petals of the flowers.
It wasn’t the background that was the main problem when I shot a few columbine flowers…
…it was getting the entire flower in focus in low light…
…without all the noise in that last photo. I did use my LED light to try to light the flower, but it wasn’t enough.
Also, I used the 60D body and my macro lens for both the iris and columbine, the swiveling screen of the 60D came in especially handy when shooting up at the columbine. I didn’t have to lay on my back in the mud to shoot that last photo. I swiveled the screen to where I could use live view to see what the camera was seeing as I knelt down next to the flower with the camera pointed up at the flower.
I did try the on-camera flash to get more light, that didn’t work at all. I also thought about using my flash unit off camera, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it fire the way the flower and camera were positioned for that photo. I really need several more hands or an assistant for that type of photo.
The wild lupine is in bloom, and I thought that I had great lighting for this photo.
However, I was a little disappointed in that image. The next day, I tried again on another lupine that I saw…
…these flowers had better colors, but the light wasn’t as good, neither is the background. Also, I should stop comparing wild flowers to specimens grown in a garden, but that’s another story for another day.
I have a few more images from that day to share.
I didn’t have time to retrieve and put an extension tube behind the macro lens so that I could get closer to the bee, this is the best that I could do.
I’m not 100% sure that this is an Acadian flycatcher, so I’m not counting it as a new species to be added to my life list. Flycatchers are notoriously hard to ID, and this one never made a sound that would help me to identify it. The buffy eye-ring suggests an Acadian flycatcher, but better images would have helped to confirm or exclude my identification of this bird.
Well, the weather forecast for my next two days off from work is looking iffy at this time. I’m afraid that I’ll have to make last-minute decisions as to where to go to avoid possible rain and thunder showers that are in the forecast. I would like to check out the three nature preserves that I didn’t find on my last weekend if the weather cooperates. However there’s something that I need to keep in mind, the possibilities for photography are endless, and I should quit trying to stick with a plan even when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and go with the flow instead.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!