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

Just the beginning, part two

I’m beginning this post on Wednesday, July 4th, just before I head out to see if I can shoot some photos of fireworks this evening, and then maybe some photos of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s been a very hot day, too hot for me to venture out after working last night.

What I didn’t know when I did my last post was that I wouldn’t have to do the typical four-hour long shift for work on Wednesday, since it’s a holiday. So, I’m not expecting much in the way of great photos of the fireworks tonight, since I didn’t have time to make plans, and because of the weather. It will be a learning experience for me as I get used to using the new 5D camera. I’m also afraid that I won’t have the correct focal length lens for the fireworks.

On my way home from work just before sunrise on the 4th, I could see a dying thunder-storm in the distance, and it was lit up beautifully by the predawn light. I managed to get home in time to run into my apartment and grab my camera for this photo.

Thunder cloud at dawn

That was with the 16-35 mm lens, and even after I cropped it to what you see above, there’s still too much foreground that adds nothing to the photo. So, I ran back inside and switched to the 70-200 mm lens, and even at 70 mm, I couldn’t get the entire storm cloud in the frame. Having had good luck stitching together photos in Lightroom the few times that I tried it in the past, I shot 6 images of the storm cloud in the portrait orientation and stitched them together to produce this image.

Thunder cloud at dawn

In the first place, I can’t believe the difference between 35 mm and 70 mm, from far too wide to needing 6 images stitched together. I know that 70 is twice 35, but I didn’t realize what that meant as far as field of view on a full frame camera, but that’s what I mean about learning to see through my shorter lenses.

In the second place, Lightroom joined the 6 images together much easier than I thought that the process would be.

Well, the fireworks photo shot turned out better than I had the right to hope for.

4th of July fireworks

I could have had a better foreground, but as this was my first time at this location, at least I could see the fireworks going off…

4th of July fireworks

…after moving a few feet to my left.

4th of July fireworks

I chose where to set-up by using only Google maps and a lot of guessing. One of the reasons I chose this spot was because there was a small pond there, and I was hoping to get reflections of the fireworks from the water of the pond. Once I flipped the camera to the portrait orientation on the tripod, I was able to get some reflections…

4th of July fireworks

…but not like I wanted to have in the photos.

4th of July fireworks

But, these are far and away my best photos of fireworks to date. I won’t go into the challenges of photographing fireworks, I’ll leave it at this. I did well enough for me to plan more in the future. I experimented a good deal with various exposure settings, and I could have used every image I shot after some tweaking in Lightroom. For example, I went up with the ISO and captured individual shell bursts with shorter shutter speeds, but they aren’t that interesting. I also went with very long exposures, capturing even more shell bursts, but then their combined brightness tended to fade the colors out of the images. My best results came at 15 seconds, ISO 200, and the aperture at f/8 if any one is interested.

I thought about going into downtown Grand Rapids after the fireworks, but it was still sweltering outside, even at 11 PM.

Okay, it’s now mid-morning on Thursday, and I have decided that I won’t be going to Muskegon this morning, obviously. It’s still sweltering outside, and I didn’t want to bother driving to Muskegon for just a couple of hours of photography before I was driven away by the heat and humidity. In the first place, I slept past sunrise, I guess this heat wave has taken a toll on me and I needed the extra sleep. It doesn’t help that they are building another new addition to the apartment complex that I live in, and that they access the construction site right outside of my bedroom.

While they weren’t working yesterday due to it being a holiday, the noise of the bulldozers and trucks coming and going are something that I’ve been dealing with all spring as I try to sleep. So, between the heat and being sleep deprived already, I decided to spend a quiet day at home. I may do some indoor testing of the new Canon 5D Mk IV later today, or I may run out if I see any thunder storms approaching my area later in the day when I check the weather radar over the course of the day.

It’s forecast to be much cooler tomorrow, cool enough so that I’ll be able to spend the better part of the day outdoors without melting in the heat. In the meantime, here’s a couple of photos shot with the new camera last weekend.

Unidentified green insect


Unidentified white flowers

Okay, it’s now Saturday morning, and I did go out to shoot photos yesterday. It was a relatively slow day overall as far as the number of birds that I saw, but there were plenty of flowers blooming, so I spent most of my time photographing them.

I’m going to attempt to refrain from going on and on about the new camera, however I’m sure that I’ll fail in that attempt. For one thing, because it was a slow day, I shot a good many photos just to see how the new 5D camera stacks up against the old 7D. Another reason that I’ll fail is because I was wowed when I saw how most of the images from the new 5D looked when I viewed them on the computer for the first time. So, I may as well get some of that out of my system to begin with.

Early on in my day, I came across 4 juvenile barn swallows that must have just recently left the nest. There were two of them together side by side and they were the closest of the four to me. So, I shot this photo with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter on the 7D.

Juvenile barn swallows

That’s the way that it came out of the 7D, I did zero editing to it.

I then switched to the 5D with the same lens and tele-converter at the same ISO setting of 4000 for this one.

Juvenile barn swallows

You can see how much reach I lose with the full frame sensor, what you can’t see in the way that the images appear here is how little noise that there is in the image shot with the 5D compared to the one shot with the 7D. The noise shows up more when I view both images full screen on my computer, and the noise would definitely be a problem if I were to print them out, I’d have to do some noise reduction in Lightroom before I could print them, especially the one shot with the 7D.

Anyway, it was a cool morning, a break from the heat wave we’ve been having, and the two swallows were huddled together for warmth I’m assuming. I moved a little closer to them and shot a few photos every now and then when I thought that their poses were good or if I thought that they were going to fly. I caught this “swallow kiss” between siblings by doing that.

Juvenile barn swallows

From what I understand, touching beaks together is one way that birds show affection towards each other.

Juvenile barn swallows

I thought that the one on the left was going to fly away at one point…

Juvenile barn swallows

…but it was only stretching its wings. I could have spent more time watching these two…

Juvenile barn swallows

…but they were getting fed up with me being so close. And, when one of their parents flew towards them to feed them, then turned away when it saw me…

Juvenile barn swallows

…I knew that it was time for me to leave.

By the way, I was so happy with the way that those images looked when they came out of the camera that I did nothing to them at first, I went back to them a second time to crop them a little and to tweak the exposure slightly, although I should have moved one way or the other to have gotten a better background or spent more time editing them in Lightroom.

Since I’m raving about the new 5D, I may as well throw this one in now.

Morning mute swans

I wanted both swans with their entire reflections in the frame, but I couldn’t get the exact shot I wanted, so that had to do. I then zoomed in all the way on the swan on the left as it began preening.

Mute swan preening

And, while I’m showing white birds, here’s a herring gull that I shot later in the day.

Herring gull

I know, too many images of common birds that I post too many photos of, but white birds are difficult to photograph well, and these were shot with the 5D, so I wanted to compare its performance to images I’ve shot in the past with the 7D.

Herring gull

I wish that I had been able to get even closer to the gull so that I could make a direct comparison to my best image of a gull shot with the 7D from a few months ago…

Herring gull

…but I think that you can see more detail in the white feathers of the gull shot with the 5D even at the greater distance.

Birds that are colored black are also difficult to photograph well in many situations, this wasn’t one of those.

Common raven

There were four ravens in the field, but I shot photos of only one of them, just to record my sighting of them.

I did shoot this image later in the day for the purpose of testing how well the 5D handles a black bird against a blue sky…

Red-winged blackbird

…and while the sky looks lighter in that image than it did in person, I didn’t have to reduce the highlights 100% in Lightroom which also kills the sheen from the bird’s feathers as I usually have to do. Here’s how the sky should have looked in the image above.

Male northern cardinal singing

Those two added stops of dynamic range that the 5D has means that I have much less editing to do to my photos when I get home. I could work on the image of the red-winged blackbird more to get the sky the correct color, but it isn’t worth it to do so. You couldn’t ask for a worse day as far as hash shadows, you can’t see a cloud in the sky in any of the images that I shot yesterday…

Green heron in flight

…yet the 5D’s dynamic range helped me produce images that look very close to what I saw without having to raise the shadows under the bird’s wings to the point where doing so introduced noise in the images.

Green heron in flight

I have some very good images of other subjects that I shot…

Buttonbush flower

…that was with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, these sunflowers were with the long lens and the 5D…

Unidentified sunflower

…and I put the macro lens on the 5D for this one.

Spotted horsemint or bee balm

I had a great time with whatever camera and lens I was using at the time. Good gear may not guarantee great images, but it sure makes the act of shooting even the bad images that I shot more fun. And, it was a day for playing…

Sparkly water

…even when I purposely under-exposed that image to highlight how sparkly the water looked under the cloudless sky.

Since it was a day for playing around, I shot a series of images to stitch together into a panorama in Lightroom to show how many mute swans I could see from the observation deck at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but that was a failed effort. It didn’t fail due to Lightroom, but it was because the swans moved, along with the waves and some of the other things in the scenes as I shot them. I didn’t know that it would be a failure, but I suspected it would be, so I shot this scene wide, then cropped off the top and bottom of this image.

Mute swans flocking together

I didn’t know that mute swans would form flocks, because they are usually very territorial.  It’s kind of fun to watch them, as for no reason that I can see, battles often break out between members of the flock. You can hear them going at it even when you can’t see them, but they never approach the preserve so that I’d be close enough for photos, at least not good photos.

I hope that I have all of that out of my system now, but I’m not sure. One thing that I am sure of though is that this new camera will work extremely well in combination with the camera that I have been using. I do still have a lot to learn about the new camera as I get to use it more, and how best to use it in conjunction with the old camera. That will come with time. I also have to do more testing, for example, the 300 mm lens that I seldom use any longer may work well on the new camera with the 2 X tele-converter behind it, I’ll have to give that combination a try soon. I have no doubt that it will work well when I’m very close to my subject, I wish that I had brought that lens along while I was shooting the juvenile swallows.

There I go again, always thinking of ways to get the best images that I can with the gear that I have now, so I’d better end this post or I’ll be doing too much thinking here.

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


17 responses

  1. Admired the storm cloud and the fireworks but the pictures that did it for me were those baby barn swallows. You take such good pictures of birds and these were among your best.

    July 8, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! The baby barn swallows were just darling, I could have watched them all day if it wouldn’t have interfered with their parents feeding them.

      July 8, 2018 at 3:49 pm

  2. Not sure where to start with all my ‘wows’! Absolutely love those kissing swallows…I know it’s a sweet thing to see but the photo is wonderful and clear and so tender. The firework photos especially the ones showing the reflections are brilliant and very clever…fancy thinking through that idea on a hot evening! Love all the close up and bird photos … your new camera is turning up trumps!

    July 8, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! Watching the baby swallows made my day, everything after them was icing on the cake.

      I knew from past attempts at photographing fireworks that reflections of them on the water adds a good deal to the images. So, I checked the news reports of when and where each local community was having their fireworks display, picked the ones that fit my schedule, then looked at each location on Google maps to make my choice. Next year, I hope to do even better if I have the chance and plan in advance.

      July 8, 2018 at 6:05 pm

      • All your planning was really worthwhile..they were brilliant firework shots.

        July 9, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      • Thank you!

        July 9, 2018 at 5:24 pm

  3. Your 5D images are so sharp with fine details and deep colors. One thing I would like to ask you is this: how do you keep the size of your JPEGs so small? With the 5D, if I am not careful my images sometimes come out to be over 1 MB. Then I have to resort to cropping or reducing their export quality to be less than 50%.

    July 8, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! It was seeing your images that helped to push me into purchasing the 5D, and I’m happy for that as I’m extremely happy with the 5D.

      I batch process my RAW images through the export function of Lightroom using the following settings. The quality is set to 70 on the slider, the jpegs are resized to 1200 by 800, and the resolution is set to 72 pixels per inch, which I was told was the best that computer monitors could display a few years ago. Those settings do change a 40 Mb file to a fraction of their original size without too much loss of quality.

      July 8, 2018 at 5:55 pm

      • Thank you for those tips. I will start using 72 ppi, instead of 175.

        July 9, 2018 at 6:18 am

  4. I think you are right about the greater feather detail on the gull.

    What a treat it was to go through this post with such a wide variety of subjects and such good results. Like my sister, I really enjoyed the barn swallows.

    July 8, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I’ll need to get a head shot of a gull in good light to make a true comparision of the level of detail I get from each camera, hopefully the same gull just seconds apart.

      Watching the young swallows were one of the things that that I would sit and watch for hours if I could. But, I do enjoy shooting the variety of subjects that we both do.

      July 8, 2018 at 5:46 pm

  5. That’s a great shot of the cloud no matter which camera was used!
    Fireworks aren’t the easiest of subjects but as you’ve shown, it can be done. I didn’t see any this year so I couldn’t try again. These came out great.
    I love the barn swallows. They’re cute little things!
    I hope it cools off there soon. Then it will here too.

    July 9, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I saw photos of the same cloud shot by others just a few minutes before I was able to shoot mine, and their’s are much better because they caught the great light that I wasn’t able to catch, darn.

      Now that I have a better idea of what I’m doing while photographing fireworks, I’ll make better plan as far as location in the future.

      The barn swallows were as cute as bug’s ears, I wished that I had thought to switch over to shoot video of them.

      There’s no relief from the heat in sight here, and I’ve heard that it’s just as bad or worse where you live. I hope that you’re able to stay cool!

      July 9, 2018 at 6:25 pm

  6. Great work on the firework images! Overall, a great post of captures, love the buttonbush flower and green heron in flight!

    July 12, 2018 at 7:22 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! I found that once I learned how many shell bursts of the fireworks made the best images, the fireworks were actually quite easy to photograph. As for the rest of the photos, just the things that I saw while wandering around with a camera in hand.

      July 12, 2018 at 7:28 am

  7. Jerry, just (finally) read this post, and am so happy that I didn’t miss it. That first shot of the barn swallows is pre ious. It’s the type of photo that I’d expect to see crop up in Facebook or across the internet as a meme for years to come. Great capture.

    Thanks for the fireworks shots, since we didn’t venture out to see them, either. This ridiculous weather has certainly sucked the joy out of being outside doing any kind of physical activity. It has also sucked the vitality out of my yard, regardless of the amount of watering we’re doing to seep our recently replanted lawn greenish. Yikes! Makes it rain, please.

    Hope you haven’t shut off comments, and I can still squeeze this one in.

    July 15, 2018 at 9:00 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Actually, I was thinking the same thing as I was shooting the photos of the swallows, if I were witty or inspirational, I probably could come up with a meme based on the swallows that would go viral. But, it was that kind of moment that makes me glad that I got back into photography, not for the chance to create a meme, but to save those memories in photos forever.

      I’ve tried to photograph fireworks in the past, and always failed. It was too hot to stake out a great location as early as one has to in order to get the best location for fireworks, but if my schedule and the weather cooperate next year, I may give it another go.

      The heat has been remarkable, along with the totally clear skies on so many days recently. I’ve loved the clear skies, but not baking under the relentless heat from the sun. I hope that when it does cool off this week, that we still have plenty of sunny days, although some shade from clouds from time to time would be nice also. Sorry about your lawn, grass is tough, when the rains do come, it should bounce back quickly.

      July 15, 2018 at 2:13 pm

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