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

Archive for August, 2018

It’s a winner

I have another post started that will probably never finish, as it’s another of my long-winded discussions on photography.

For the most part, it all boils down into this, the new 24-70 mm lens is a winner!

Hemlock grove

Especially when on the 5D Mk IV with its extended dynamic range.

Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park

And, it works well up close also.

Mushroom and moss

The macro function of the lens isn’t quite what I hoped it would be…

Wasp gall from an oak tree

…but it does fill in a small void between photos such as this one…

Cardinal flowers

…and when I switch to the 100 mm macro lens for images like this.

Sweet pea

It’s funny, the image above shows how one typically sees a sweet pea flower, but I rotated the image 90 degrees, because the flower really looked like this as I shot it…

Sweet pea

….but the image looks odd, I suppose it’s because that’s not the way that I see sweet peas in my mind’s eye. However, the odd version does do a better job of showing the true shape of the flower, which makes these two doubly odd in some ways. But, that’s what happens when showing three-dimensional objects in only two dimensions. Still, it’s the same flower in the same light shown in the same two dimensions, so I can’t explain why these two images look so different to me. Maybe it’s just me and the way that I see things.

When I found the cardinal flowers, I hung around for a while, trying to find one plant out in the open and hoping that a hummingbird would come along to drink the nectar from any of them…

Cardinal flowers

…but the colony of cardinal flowers were growing in amongst a thick tangle of various grasses, sedges, and cattails, and I never found a single cardinal flower plant standing alone, and only tattered butterflies…

Unidentified fluttering object on a cardinal flower

…showed up at any of the cardinal flowers. I tried for other shots of the butterflies, as there were many of them, but I couldn’t get a clear view of any but the one above. I did attempt to identify the butterflies, there were several species drinking the cardinal flower nectar, but all of the butterflies that I saw had very tattered wings, so much so that I couldn’t be sure of any ID I may have tried to make. I think that there were red-spotted purples and also one of the swallowtail species there, but as I said, their wings were in extremely bad shape.

As I write this, I wonder if the butterflies were tearing their wings up by flying through the thick vegetation to get to the cardinal flowers. The damage to their wings was so severe in many cases that I wondered how the butterfly could still fly. I should have shot a few photos to illustrate the damage, but I was looking for beautiful butterflies to photograph, and not thinking about why so many of them looked as bad as they did. Anyway, no hummers showed up there while I waited, only this dragonfly…

Dragonfly

…and a female track team out training for the coming season, although I shot no photos of the girls as they ran past me on the very narrow Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park.

I really blew it in my planning of where to go and when to go there, as when I got to Lost Lake, the shore that I was on was in deep shade yet. I was using the short hike to Lost Lake and back as a test to see how it would work to carry the 7D camera with the 100-400 mm lens on it for birds, and the 5D with the 24-70 mm lens on it for landscapes and wide-angle close-ups. Overall, it worked well enough, although I never got close enough to any of the birds I heard to shoot photos of them. I saw only a few small birds in the tree tops, out of camera range, and one larger bird that I think was an owl. However, I got only short glimpses of the larger bird as it flew into a tree above me, them flew away again as I attempted to get a clear view of whatever it was.

The reason that I said I blew it is because I should never go to Lost Lake without my macro lens, and probably my flash unit. I see flowers blooming there that I see nowhere else that I go, and many of them are quite small.

Tiny purple flower

I should have swapped lenses between the two bodies, as there’s far too much noise in these from the 7D, but I’m hoping to go back with my macro lens and shoot these same flowers again…

Tiny white flowers

…when the light is better and I have the proper equipment with me. The entire cluster of flowers in this next photo was only 3/8 to 1/2 an inch across…

Very tiny white flowers

…but at least the light was better when I shot that.

I did better with the larger flowers…

Water lily opening

…after waiting patiently for the sun to hit them. When it did, I had to check out each flower through the viewfinder of the camera to see how the flowers appeared to the camera…

Water lily

…because the low sun angle and the effects of the surface tension of the water made for some interesting images.

Water lily and bee

So the day wasn’t a total waste, because that one image made the day worthwhile to me. I wish that you could all see that last one full size and the way that it appears on my computer, the bee is a nice addition, but the blue rings around the lily pads because of the refraction of the reflection of the bright blue sky above really make that image something special to me.

I chased a couple of other subjects around trying to get good photos of them, like this toad…

American toad

…and this beetle…

Six spotted tiger beetle

…which moved just as I had the light as I wanted it every time, so I had to settle for this.

Six spotted tiger beetle

I should also say that techniques that I’ve begun using with the 5D Mk IV body also work with the 7D body, as the images of the beetle show. I didn’t think that the 7D was capable of that level of fine detail, but I was wrong, it was me, not the camera.

That’s why I continue to take test shots such as this one…

Prehistoric stump monster in color

…with the 24-70 mm lens as a test, knowing that I planned to convert it to B&W…

Prehistoric stump monster in B&W

…and that I probably wouldn’t be able to decide which version that I preferred.

I suppose that I should throw in a bird photo, since I’m having difficult times shooting any good images of birds presently.

Sandhill crane in flight

There are reasons why I haven’t shot many photos of birds recently, some species have already migrated south for the year, and when it comes to ducks, they all look like female mallards at this time of year. I found out on Friday that the lack of birds may be caused by the weather this summer, but more on that later.

For Friday, I had planned on returning to Lost Lake, but in the afternoon so that I’d have better light to photograph the tiny flowers in. So, I let myself sleep in, then went to the local camera store to look for a backpack that will hold my full-frame camera with the grip on it, and the lenses required for it. I’ll keep my current backpack to hold my EF-S lenses, to use as back-ups, or if the time ever comes that I set-up a camera for time-lapse photography or something similar.

I checked every backpack in the store that looked deep enough to old either the 5D or 7D cameras with the grip attached, and there was something about every one of them that made me cross them of the list of possibilities. It seems that the manufacturers are going for gimmicks, when all that I want is a simple backpack that will hold a pro-level camera and 3 or 4 lenses, a few filters, my flash unit, and tripod. I won’t go into further detail though.

After playing with the flash for macro photography, and trying to shoot holding the camera in one hand and the flash in the other hand, I also checked in the store to see if they carried a simple bracket that would attach to the camera and hold the flash where I wanted it. They had nothing in the store that did what I wanted, but I did find a simple flexible rod, and after thinking about what I wanted, and the things that I already have, I picked up one of the flexible rods.

I didn’t have time to assemble it before I left for Muskegon, but last night after I got back, I did play with it and made it work. It’s a bit on the ugly side, and a bit cheesy, but it works, and that’s all that matters to me right now. I’ll show a photo of it the next time I mount it to the camera to show all of you what it looks like, and how it works.

Now then, weather and the birds. Even though the weather forecast had predicted mostly cloudy skies but no rain for the afternoon, by the time I got to Muskegon, the skies were such that I didn’t want to risk being too far from shelter, as it looked as if it would rain at any time. So, I changed my plans and stopped at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, rather than continuing on to Muskegon State Park, and Lost Lake there. That proved to be a wise decision.

It wasn’t long after I arrived there at the nature preserve that it began to rain, or I should say, sprinkle, as the rain was very light for some time before I was forced to take shelter.

I spent most of my time there in one very small area, shooting various species of birds that were in a mixed flock, I think that some of them were migrating south already.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler

 

Warbling vireo

 

Eastern wood-pewee

Other’s were local year round residents.

Female downy woodpecker

 

Male downy woodpecker

So far, the small birds were all shot with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender. But as the clouds thickened, and the rain increased in intensity, I could see that the ISO setting was going higher all the time. So, I swapped to the 5D with the same lens and extender for the rest of these. It was a good thing that I did.

Black-capped chickadee

You can see how wet the chickadee was by then, apparently, they don’t shed water as well as other species of birds.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

 

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

It amazes me the way that birds are able to find insects that are doing their best to remain out of sight. But, the birds learn where insects are prone to hide, and they have to learn that to survive.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

I like the way the warbler has a look as if saying “What caterpillar?”.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

Right after I shot that series, the rain picked up enough that I went back to the shelter there at the preserve, and waited for the rain to let up. I amused myself by shooting water drops hitting a small pool of water on the ground at the edge of the shelter, but I know that I can do better, so I won’t bore you with the poor images from this day. It was another learning experience though.

Even though I’ve exceeded the number of photos in this post that I attempt to limit myself to, I have two more to share.

Grey squirrel, black morph

There are two reasons I’m including these, one is that I haven’t photographed many squirrels lately…

Grey squirrel, black morph

…and also to show how well the 5D Mk IV does in very low light when photographing a black subject. I could ramble on about that, but I won’t.

I’ve said it many times, but wildlife seems to be more active, or at least easier to approach, when the weather is less than what we humans consider ideal. I’ve sort of given up trying to photograph wildlife on days such as this one, but now that I have a camera that can produce good images in low light, I’ll go back to the way I used to do things as far as not letting the weather stop me, because I was more concerned with the quality of images that I’d come back with than in getting any images at all.

Anyway, for the rest of the day, the rain continued, sometimes only sprinkles, at other times it was heavy enough for me to stay either in my vehicle, or some other man-made shelter. I didn’t shoot many photos, but I didn’t let the rain stop me either. I’ll have the rest of the photos from the day in my next post.

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

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A follow up

This post will at least begin as a continuation of my last post, in words more than in photos.

I enjoyed my day trip to northern Michigan a great deal, despite the crowds in places and the traffic. Most of the crowds were either getting snockered while on a vineyard tour, or spending their money in the gift shops in the area. I did have some almost alone times that made me remember the things that I love about northern Michigan. The fresh air coming from Lake Michigan, often mixed with the scent of pines, or campfire smoke. How it cooled off as soon as the sun went down, even on a very warm day. The wide open spaces, or I should say, seeing hills and valleys when so many of the places that I go on a weekly basis are quite flat.

There are plenty of other parts of northern Michigan that I could have gone to if I had wanted to escape the crowds, although I fear that they are becoming harder to find than they were a decade or two ago.

I am very pleased with both the landscapes and the star images that I shot, and what I learned while shooting them. I thought about trying for better images of the Perseid Meteor shower on Friday night, but two things stopped me, clouds rolling in, and a lack of a good spot near home that would allow me to have an interesting foreground in the frame while capturing the meteors overhead.

When it comes to landscape photography, one thing is becoming emphatically clearer all the time, the importance of scouting locations in advance if possible.

Scenes that are appealing to us as we see them in three dimensions with our eyes often do not produce very good two-dimensional images as seen through a camera. The opposite is also true, what produces a good two-dimensional image may not be the most beautiful scene as we see it in three dimensions. That’s what I mean when I say that I’m learning to see the world through my camera with a wide-angle lens on it.

I meant the last trip as both one to learn new photography techniques, and as a scouting trip of sorts. In some ways, the trip was a complete bust when it comes to the latter. It will probably be a few years before the sour taste of the crowds near Traverse City leave my mouth, and I can bring myself to return to that area. By then, I’ll have to start from scratch again. However, while I only shot a handful of photos during the middle part of the trip, I feel that I saw several areas that warrant future scouting trips to those places.

The good news is that this last trip didn’t hit my wallet as hard as I feared that it would, so I think that I can safely begin planning trips for this fall. That’s even though I have just ordered the last lens that I need to complete my kit when if comes to my move to shooting with a full frame sensor camera, the Canon 24-70 mm f/4 lens. I’ve posted the details about this lens in previous posts as I drooled over it up until this point, so there’s no need for me to repeat myself yet again.

After all, there’s no reason to spend money on trips to northern Michigan if I don’t have the correct lens to photograph the things that I see. And, I’m sure that as much as I’ve loved exploring close-up photography with a wide-angle lens, having the 24-70 mm lens will only add to that with its near macro capability. I should take delivery of the lens before my next day off from work, but I’ll probably just go to the Muskegon area to begin testing it out.

Anyway, the difficult thing for me while scouting is visualizing how a scene will look in different lighting, but I’m getting better at that all the time. So, the more I do, the more I should be able to improve my skills in that department.

One thing that will assist me while scouting is that both the 7D and 5D cameras have GPS capabilities built-in. When I download the images that I shoot with the GPS turned on into Lightroom, Lightroom plots the location where the images were shot in Google Maps. So while scouting, I can shoot photos that I know that I won’t use but they will help me remember the scene, and I’ll have a GPS record of where that photo was shot for future reference so that I can return to the same spot later when the light is better.

Newsflash!

Even though I’ve had the 5D Mk IV for over a month now, I just got around to printing any images that I’ve shot with it, one of the sunset…

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

…and Milky Way…

Manistee River Valley at night

…images from my last post. All I can say is WOW! I have a 27 inch iMac, and the details in the prints go beyond what the iMac can render on the screen! So, not only can’t readers of my blog see how good the 5D is when it comes to resolution and details in an image, I can’t either, when looking at the images displayed on the computer. I may actually have to consider softening some images in the future, especially if I were to photograph a person, or when extreme sharpness in an image runs counter to the mood that I want to convey in the image.

That also means that I’ll have to be more careful in getting the focus exact for a scene, and pay more attention to all the details in a scene when I’m photographing it. Not only does the increased resolution make the good parts of a scene look even better, that same thing works to show the flaws in the images as well.

So, back to scouting trips. They will be modest in distance and duration this fall, but by next summer or early fall, once I have the bill for my hospital stay last spring paid off, I should be free to travel further and for longer periods of time. I’m thinking of taking the week of vacation that I’ll have coming next year and going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to photograph the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and other of the more scenic areas available there.

I’m fired up already! However, I still have a lot of work to do until that time comes. So I suppose that it’s a good thing that the trip will be over a year away as it stands now, if I’m able to swing it then.

I’m not going to list everything that I have to work on, other than learning my newest equipment. Beyond that, it’s continuing to do what I have been doing, learning all aspects of photography and improving on them.

I do have one more thing to say, and this has been building for some time now. The addition of the 5D Mk IV has really fueled a growing feeling within me to expand not just the subjects that I photograph, but also to attempt to become more creative in the way that I approach photography. That may have been apparent before, when I shot photos of downtown Grand Rapids, both during the day, and at night. In fact, it’s become an obsession, where ever I go, what ever I’m doing, I now look at the world around me thinking of ways to photograph what I see. It may not require a top of the line camera to take a great image, but it sure makes it easier. That may be the thing that I love most about the 5D, using it is even easier than using the 7D is, and that allows me to put more thought into the images that I shoot, increasing my chances of shooting a great image now and then.

Maybe becoming more creative isn’t the right way to say what I’m trying to say, as I’m not a very creative person to begin with. What I’m working towards is to share the beauty of nature as well as I possibly can, and at times, that will mean going beyond what I’ve been doing so far. I really like the Milky Way image above, where I combined a bit of landscape photography by including the view of the Manistee River Valley with the Milky Way above it.

You may have seen similar images, that include the Milky Way or just the night sky over some famous landscape features before, so I’m not breaking new ground there. But that’s something that I’ll keep in mind as I’m scouting locations to photograph.

Anyway, time for some new photos. I went out Friday evening last week, and tried once again to get the image of the cup plant flowers that I have in mind, once again, I failed.

Cup plant flowers

But, that one is closer to what I want than my previous attempt was. If they are still in bloom this week, and the weather is good, I’ll try again with the new lens so that I can get closer, yet also move up a little as well, while getting them all in the frame at once. With the 70-200 mm lens, I had to move back away from the flowers more than I wanted to, and that forced me to shoot at a steeper angle upwards than I wanted.

But, as I was trying to get the shot of the flowers that I wanted, I saw several bees on the flowers, so I zoomed in to 200 mm for this shot.

Bee on a cup plant flower

That may be a good example of getting more creative, I really like the out of focus foreground, even though it’s a bit cluttered with too many buds and blooms. Here’s an example of what I typically would have shot.

Bee on a cup plant flower

I was too far away from the bee in both photos, I knew that when I shot them, but it doesn’t matter as much in the first photo the way that I framed it with the out of focus flowers versus the ho-hum look of the second photo.

Here’s a juvenile bald eagle watching a huge flock of swallows as the swallows fed.

Juvenile bald eagle and swallows

And, here’s the zoomed in version.

Juvenile bald eagle and swallows 2

These next three are to remind me to never give up on a sunset. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky during my drive to the Muskegon area, which is why I went to the wastewater facility in hopes of shooting birds. But, just as the sun went down…

Surprise sunset

…a few clouds appeared on the horizon and inland farther…

Surprise sunset 2

…and the color in the sky only intensified after the actual sunset…

Surprise sunset 3

…and it had to have been one of the longest lasting sunsets that I have ever witnessed. I had hoped to shoot the sunset over Lake Michigan, but with no clouds in the sky, I had changed my plans, I shouldn’t have.

Those are the only photos from Friday, so I’ll put this post on pause for the time being.

“M” is for macro

Well, I made it out with the 5D and the new 24-70 mm lens, but I spent most of the day with the 100 mm macro lens on the camera, learning how to get better macro photos. First though, I returned to the cup plant flowers for this shot.

Cup plant flowers

I got everything that I wanted, other than a clear, dark blue sky in the background. I shot that one at about 40 mm, and it’s good and sharp all the way to the corners. Seeing a large number of goldenrod soldier beetles on the flowers, I flipped the 24-70 mm lens to the near macro mode for this one.

Goldenrod soldier beetles

There’s far more depth of field than with my 100 mm macro lens, but the macro function of the 24-70 mm lens isn’t very versatile. That lens will only focus on a narrow band in the macro mode, which really won’t be much of a problem the way I intend to use it. It does seem sharp enough though…

chicory

I tested it straight at 70 mm as close as it will focus…

Milkweed flowers at 70 mm

…then flipped it into the macro mode for this one.

Milkweed flowers in the macro mode

It does get me a bit closer in the macro mode, and with more depth of field than the 100 mm lens. So, it will make a nice addition to my kit, especially on longer walks when I want to travel light.

I also shot a few landscape photos over the course of the day, but between the weather and lack of any compelling scenes to shoot, I’m not going to post any of those. I will say that the 24-70 mm lens is equally as sharp as the 16-35 mm lens that I love, so when the time comes for landscapes, I have all the lenses that I need.

I did look for birds and/or other wildlife, but there wasn’t much to photograph, so the day turned into a test day for me. I used the 100 mm macro lens, the flash unit that I have, and used a cord to hold the flash unit off the camera. That made it tricky to hold the camera still, but I managed.

Goldenrod soldier beetle

Since the fastest shutter speed the 5D will synchronize the shutter and a flash unit is 1/200 second, I switched to the manual mode and dialed the shutter to that setting, the aperture to f/16 for depth of field, and the ISO was set to auto to compensate for the correct exposure.

Goldenrod soldier beetle

There are several advantages to using the flash unit, better lighting for one. I found that whether the sun was behind a cloud, or shining directly on the subject that I was shooting, the ISO came out to 400 unless I dialed in compensation for unusually light or dark subjects, and I did that through flash compensation.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

The strobe effect of the flash unit worked as if I had the shutter speed set much faster, yet my aperture stayed stopped down, and the ISO stayed relatively low.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

Once I had the details worked out, it was simply a matter of finding other flowers to shoot.

Spotted knapweed

 

Buttonbush flowers turning red

 

Arrowhead flower

 

Spotted jewelweed

 

Bull thistle

 

Pokeweed flowers

I really wanted to find a few more insects to photograph, and I thought that I had found a green sweat bee that I’d be able to shoot. I don’t know what tipped the bee off every time I pressed the shutter release, but it flew to a different spot on this leaf as the flash fired every single time.

Green sweat bee avoiding being photographed

The bee would land, I’d get it in focus, press the shutter release, and the bee would be someplace else on the leaf when the mirror in the camera flipped back so that I could look through the viewfinder again. I’ve shot them before, and while they seldom sit still for long, I’ve never had one react to the sound of the shutter like that before. I thought that the duration of the flash was so short that nothing would be able to react to it, but that bee seemed to, I’ll have to do some more testing to make sure though.

I have one more macro shot…

I’ve forgotten what these berries are (again)

…and a B&W image that’s nothing special, other than it was shot with the new lens.

The boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Anyway, I find myself using the manual mode more often all the time, to force the camera into settings that I want, rather than the settings it calculates would be the best for a scene. Part of the reason is because I’ve been photographing subjects that aren’t conducive to letting the camera control the exposure, such as the night photography I’ve been doing. In my limited testing on this day shooting macros while using the flash unit, I can see how much of an improvement that made over my usual macro photos.

Both the 7D and 5D exposure systems work quite well when photographing easy subjects, so I’ll probably continue to use aperture priority most of the time for perched birds and the like, and shutter priority when photographing moving subjects, such as birds in flight. However, both cameras come up with some bizarre settings if I use a flash for any subject. By going to manual, I can control the shutter speed and aperture to get what I want, which is especially helpful when it comes to macros. And, I really like the results that I came up with while using the flash, so that will become my default starting point for macro photography from now on.

It was nice not having to worry about sun angles or shadows when choosing which flowers to photograph, I could concentrate on the flower and the background, and let the flash create the light that I wanted. The only problem that I ran into was in trying to hold the camera steady with one hand while holding the flash where I wanted it with the other hand. But, because of the strobe effect of freezing motion, that wasn’t as much of a problem as I feared it would be while I was looking through the viewfinder. I got a much higher percentage of sharp images than I anticipated I would while I was shooting them. Still, I can see how a bracket to hold the flash off camera would be something very useful and will allow me to hold the camera even steadier to get the exact focus point in the scene where I want it.

Most of the rejects from the day weren’t rejects because of motion blur, but because I moved slightly while pressing the shutter release, and the focus point moved within the scene, causing rejects because what I wanted in focus wasn’t.

It’s now mid-morning on Friday, one of my days off from work. I should have left my apartment hours ago to shoot more photos, but the weather is sapping my motivation. It’s been hot and muggy all summer long, since May in fact, and I slept much longer than usual last night to begin with. Now, a very slow band of light rain has moved into the area, which we need badly. Although it’s been muggy all summer, we’ve had about half the rainfall of a typical summer, so it’s very dry across most of Michigan. So, even though I have a new lens and a relatively new camera, I think that I’ll run some errands today that I would normally take care of before work, then go out this evening if it cools off a little after the rain.

Well, I may not make it out today at all. The band of rain has wobbled around over the mid-Michigan area all day, and it looks like it is going to continue to do so until after sunset. That’s a good thing, we needed a all-day rain such as we’ve had today. But, to finish off this post, I’m going to go back to last summer about this same time for some photos that I’ve never gotten around to using until now for one reason or another.

Peregrine falcon harassing a juvenile gull

I thought it interesting at the time that the other gulls and ducks resting in the same pool of water that you can see in that photo…

Gulls and ducks resting as the peregrine falcon flies overhead

…paid little to no attention at all to the falcon flying over them.

Since I doubt that I’ll shoot many shorebirds this fall, here are some from last year.

Stilt sandpiper

 

Stilt sandpiper

 

Lesser yellowlegs to the right, pectoral sandpiper to the left

 

Pectoral sandpiper

 

American golden plover

And finally, this is the rig that I used to shoot the solar eclipse…

Near total eclipse of the sun, August 21, 2017

…last year.

My tripod and gimbal head

I may have to use that tripod and head for star photography if I can’t figure out a way to get my other tripod head to tilt up as much as I need it to in order to get the portions of the sky that I want in the frame, even though the tripod not shown is better in other ways for star photography.

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


One day get away

It’s Thursday morning as I begin typing this, my first of two days off from work. I’ve decided that I’m going to do things a little differently, well, a lot differently than I usually do. Normally I get done with work Wednesday evenings, then go to bed as early as I think that I can get to sleep, then try to be awake well before dawn. This week, I decided to let myself sleep in this morning, and that I’ll do a one day trip to northern Michigan in hopes of shooting a few landscapes, as well as the Milky Way this evening, and the Perseid meteor shower also. Who knows, maybe I’ll get some great sunset images as I wait for the sky to go dark this evening.

I have a rough route planned, but for the most part, I’m going to play this by ear, and go with the flow. There’s a line of storms passing through my area right now, and they should be well south of me before I begin this trip. I doubt if I’ll come away with any landscape images that would be considered excellent, but even if what I return with are more of the picture postcard variety of photos, that’s okay with me. They should give readers a better idea of what the state of Michigan is like, and I’ll get the chance to play with the new 5D camera and wide-angle lens.

The only downside to this trip is that I’ll probably fighting crowds for much of the time while I’m in areas where I’d like to shoot landscapes. I was going to camp overnight and return tomorrow, but there’s no room left at any of the campgrounds that take reservations when I checked earlier this week. Northern Michigan is a very popular tourist destination, with the motels and campgrounds filled to the brim most nights.

I’m back, it was a bit of an up and down kind of day. Just as I anticipated, I ran into both road construction and traffic jams that held up my progress, and caused me to abandon some of the landscape photos that I had planned on shooting. I was worried that I’d be late getting to my final destination because of the delays. However, I gave up my earlier plans too quickly, and I arrived at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse well before sunset. I ended up with a couple of hours to kill before sunset, with not many photo opportunities, as you will see later.

I had planned on taking a nap, and the hours that I had before sunset would have been a good time for a nap, but it was too darned hot in my vehicle to sleep, even though I had parked in the shade. But, after having sat there waiting for a ho-hum sunset, I didn’t want to wait for an even longer time before I could shoot the Milky Way and/or the Perseid Meteor shower, so I struck out for home, and stopped at spot that you may see more than a few times over the next few years.

The Milky Way over the Manistee River Valley

There’s even a faint meteor just to the right of center in that image.

I suppose that having begun with that image that I could go in reverse order for the day, but I won’t, I’ll go back to the beginning.

My first stop was at the Newaygo County welcome center, where I hoped to shoot the scene to the east of the building. I’ve been past the welcome center thousands of times, but I’ve never stopped. It’s on the top of a high hill that looks out over the Muskegon River Valley, but all the views of the valley are obscured by trees there at the welcome center. I settled on shooting a couple of flowers from their wildflower garden…

Unidentified purple wildflower

…there was a sign to identify the flowers, of course I didn’t have the sense to look at the sign, or better yet, photograph it for reference, other than to make sure it didn’t appear in the background of the flower photos.

Purple coneflower

I’m liking wide-angle close-up photography for larger flowers that don’t require a macro lens to fill the frame. But, I have to practice that more often, especially once I have purchased the 24-70 mm lens with its near macro capabilities. I’m used to struggling to get the entire flower in focus, with these, I should have opened the lens up for less depth of field.

I also mentioned the 24-70 mm lens because I could have made use of it several times over the course of the day, such as at my second stop.

Train trestle in White Cloud, Michigan

35 mm was too wide, 70 mm put me too close to the bridge to get any of the foliage in the frame. Oh well, I should be able to purchase that lens this fall at the rate that I’m saving towards it, even if it means it will be past the time of any flowers for this year, at least I’ll have it for landscapes, and there’s always next year.

I was a bit concerned at the time by the low clouds sticking around longer than had been forecast, but I saw that they were beginning to break up at my next stop, which was the Peterson Bridge over the Pine River.

I looked for other locations to shoot the next three images from, but I ended up parking on the shoulder of the road and shooting from the bridge.

The Pine River from the Peterson Bridge

That’s looking upstream, here’s the view downstream.

The Pine River from the Peterson Bridge

But my favorite image shot from the bridge shows the old river channel which is now cut-off from the river since the river changed course. The water is green from minerals washed into the water, and the water is still so clear that you can see the dead trees on the bottom of the old channel.

The old Pine River channel from the Peterson Bridge

Eventually, the old channel will be filled in by sediment washed in by rain, and become a wetland area for a few decades before bushes and then trees begin growing there.

If any one is interested, the Pine River is a tributary of the Manistee River that I mentioned in the caption to the first image in this post. Both are good trout fishing rivers, although the Manistee is better fished from a boat than by wading in this part of Michigan due to its size. The Pine River is one of the fastest and coldest rivers in Michigan, making it a river that can be waded, but only if you’re sure-footed in waders. It’s also one of the most popular rivers for watercraft such as canoes and kayaks, so one is always dealing with them if you try to fish it.

That reminds me, before I got to the Pine River, I stopped at the Federal Ranger station in Baldwin, Michigan to pick up my first “geezer” pass. Since the governments at all levels now see fit to charge us for access to lands purchased with our tax dollars, I decided that it was time to take advantage of the lower price of the “geezer” pass. I was actually eligible last year, but they raised the fee for a lifetime pass from $10 for a life time pass to $80 for the same pass just days before the birthday of mine that made me eligible. Now, I’m going to purchase 4 yearly passes at $20 each, then I can turn all four in for a lifetime pass. The “geezer” pass is still a better deal than paying by day, but it still ticks me off that I missed the cut-off point by only a few days.

In fact, I’ve tried to avoid Federal land as much as possible because of how much they charge, but it’s getting to the point where they charge for access to every square inch of land under their control, so if I want to return to Loda Lake to photograph flowers and birds, or any other Federally controlled lands, the pass will come in handy.

My next stop was a small roadside park on Hodenpyl Pond.

Hodenpyl Pond as seen from the roadside park on M-37

Hodenpyl Pond is the body of water behind Hodenpyl Dam, a hydro-electric generating dam on the Manistee River. Just as the osprey nest where I photographed the osprey earlier this year is next to the pond formed when the a series of dams were built along the Muskegon River, the Manistee River has a series of dams and ponds behind the dams as well.

By the way, it was still cloudy, but more breaks in the clouds were appearing all the time. And, I think that it’s time for a map.

Map of Michigan

I know that it’s hard to read this small map, but I began in Grand Rapids, and my route took me about halfway in between Cadillac and Ludington, on my way to Traverse City and then to the northwest. I think that it’s time for a better map of my location at this time.

Grand Traverse Bay area

When I was younger, this was my favorite part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. Over the years, too many other people have fallen in love with it as well, now, it’s a mass of tourists all of the time, but especially in the summer.

I had to fight through several traffic jams in the Traverse City area to get to M-22 to go north along the coast of the west bay, but there are several small roadside parks and pull-off areas once you start north on M-22. Here’s a scene from one of them.

Grand Traverse Bay and Old Mission Point

Who wouldn’t love water as beautiful as anywhere in the world? Some one posted a comment to one of the following images saying that it looks like a tropical beach, and it does. However, at some point along here, I crossed the 45th Parallel, the point halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

I stopped at most of the places that I could to shoot more photos of the bay to practice various things as far as photography, so while these images aren’t great, they are a bit better than my typical practice shots due to the subject.

Grand Traverse Bay

These next two are essentially the same, in the first, I like the colors reflected off from the water to the left in the frame…

Grand Traverse Bay

…in the second, I like the wave breaking right in front of me.

Grand Traverse Bay

I thought that the “spotlight” of sun on the rock would show up better than it did in this one.

Grand Traverse Bay

Some of these are HDR images, some are single images that I worked on in Lightroom. This next one is a single image from the 5D…

Grand Traverse Bay

…and this is the HDR version, that looks too fake to me.

Grand Traverse Bay

I took several side trips looking for a point from which I could see the bay from a higher elevation, and also to check out the narrows of Lake Leelanau that you can see on the second map above. The narrows weren’t as photogenic as I remembered, and I never did find a better view of the bay, although I know that there has to be one.

Also on the map above, you can see several small towns, Leeland, Sutton’s Bay, and Northport to name some of them. They used to be quaint little fishing villages or towns where they extremely wealthy kept their yachts moored in the summer. Now, all those small towns are bustling little tourist traps, filled with overpriced trinkets or poor quality (my opinion) artwork.

Most of both the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Point used to be orchard country, but most of the farmers there have switched to growing grapes to be used for wines. The farmers have learned that there’s more profit from getting people drunk than from growing fresh fruits such as cherries, apples, and pears. Also, wine brings tourists that love to go on vineyard tours getting sloshed as they go from vineyard to vineyard taste testing wines all day. There are even tour busses filled with drunks on vineyard tours, and they all stop at the local tourist shops to purchase those cheap trinkets that they’ll need to remember their trip by, since they’re too drunk to remember without the help of the trinkets.

I know that I said this a few years ago when I went to the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, but I really see no reason to return this part of Michigan in the future, no matter how beautiful it is, and even if I do have many fond memories of the times I spent there when I was younger, it’s simply too crowded for me.

Anyway, on one of my side trips looking for a better view of the bay, I did find a crop other than grapes being grown.

Nodding sunflowers

I shot several photos of the field of sunflowers, and I was going to tell you about the two middle-aged drunk women who tottered right in front of me as I was lining up to shoot one of the other photos that I shot, but I’ll skip that story.

I made it to my destination…

Sign with info

…the Grand Traverse Lighthouse…

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

…although I should have adjusted or removed the polarizing filter…

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

…as the sky is just a tad over-saturated in these images. 😉

You can see that by that time, there was no longer a cloud in the sky, that didn’t bode well for the sunset later. But, I stuck around, finding a few things to photograph from time to time…

Common garden plant that I should be able to remember, but can’t

 

Hydrangea

 

Boat load of marigolds

 

Boat load of marigolds 2

 

Marigolds

 

Day lily

 

Day lily

 

Raspberry?

Then, I went down to the beach to stake out my spot for the sunset. I knew that it wouldn’t be spectacular, so I tried to find the best foreground that I could because I knew that the foreground would make or break any images that I shot.

Waiting for sunset

I also knew that any drunks that showed up for the sunset, and a few did, wouldn’t notice some one with a camera on a tripod shooting photos, and would walk in front of me, or park themselves between me and the sun if I left them room to do so, so I had to stay close to the water. Here’s what I came up with.

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

Not bad for no clouds to spread the color from the sun around, just some haze in the distance.

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

As I was shooting these, I was thinking that I’d like to have played with a neutral density filter to let the shutter stay open longer to smooth out the water even more, but all I have is a 6 stop ND filter, and that would have been too much. In fact, now that I’ve looked at the images, I think that any ND filter would have introduced motion blur from the slight breeze moving the vegetation around if the shutter had been open longer.

All in all, I’m quite happy with these sunset images, I correctly planned for the type of sunset that would unfold, and I judged correctly in advance where the sun would be as it neared the horizon. I probably should have zoomed out a tad bit more so as to not cut off the rock to the right in the frame though.

But, I could see that to the south, where I live, if I had stayed home, I could have shot a spectacular sunset.

Looking south from the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula

Oh well, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I was getting tired by then, and although I should have stuck around to shoot the Milky Way from there, it had been a long day, and I faced a long drive home. Also, I wanted very much to shoot the Manistee River Valley on my way home…

Manistee River Valley at night

…just for future reference, as I said earlier. There aren’t many places in Michigan where there’s such a panoramic view of the hills and valleys, in most places, trees block the view. The trees in the Milky Way images that I shot there end abruptly just a short distance ahead of where I shot these from, but I wanted the trees in these images. To shoot the Manistee River Valley at sunrise, which would make a gorgeous image, I could move down past the trees to get the image that I have in mind. I’ll also have to see what this scene looks like in the fall when the trees are in full color as well. I need to spend a day up in this part of Michigan scouting both the Manistee and Muskegon River valleys.

By the way, that’s not the same image as before, in this one, the meteor is to the left in the frame. Heck, the guides on the Perseid Meteor shower say that you need to be looking to the northeast to see the meteors, they seemed to be everywhere that I pointed the camera. But, before I get to that, here’s what you get when a semi-truck goes past the camera while the shutter is open at night.

Manistee River Valley at night

I had the tripod pointed up as far as it would go, there, so I tried another location, the same small roadside park near the Hodenpyl Pond where I had stopped on my way up. There are two faint meteors in this next image.

Some of the Milky Way

And I couldn’t resist turning the camera out over Hodenpyl Pond at night.

Nighttime at Hodenpyl Pond

There’s too much noise in those images, but I’m not going to sweat it. For my first real attempts at star photography, these aren’t bad. I used the 400 rule, which may also be called the 500 rule, or even 600 rule. That is, you divide 400 by the focal length of your lens, in my case 16 mm, and the result is the shutter speed to use to keep the stars as points and not become star trails. In my case, with the 16-35 mm lens set to 16 mm at f/4, it worked out to be 20 seconds for the exposure times at ISO 12800. I could probably go at least one stop lower on the ISO and to turn up the noise reduction in the camera and/or use software to lessen the noise that I got. However, the noise can’t be seen until I zoom in 1 to 1 in these images, so they’re a good starting point.

By the way, in the days of film, one started with 600 and divided the focal length of the lens into that to get the shutter speed. Then in the early days of digital photography, it became necessary to drop the number to 500 to keep the stars as points, and with the new high-resolution cameras, it’s better to use 400 as the starting point to calculate the shutter speed.

I did luck out with the weather, just a few very thin clouds at various times, so that helped a good deal. Even though the clouds were thin, they did catch and hold the starlight enough to partially obscure the Milky Way slightly, a completely clear sky would have been better. These images won’t win any awards, but they do give me a solid base to work from in the future when I’m someplace better suited for star photography.

The only sticking point that I ran into was that the head on my tripod doesn’t allow me to point the camera up at enough of an angle for all the star photography that I may do in the future. The head that I use only tilts 30 degrees up, but I think that I can find ways to work around that, I’m not going to purchase yet another head for the tripod unless I absolutely have to.

One last thing about the Milky Way images, these are pretty much the way that they came out of the camera. I think that during the coming week, I may play with one of them in Lightroom to see if I can come closer to duplicating images that I’ve seen shot by others, and heavily processed by them.

What the heck, I went in and did a quick edit of this image.

The Milky Way edited

Now, all I need to do is be someplace more photogenic as far as the foreground. And so you know, the dashed line of light to the left center of the frame isn’t a meteor, it was a plane flying past me while the shutter was open.

Okay then, despite the traffic and crowds, I’d say that this one day trip away from my regular haunts was a success. While I shot some good images, they’re not really anything special in my opinion. However, I did learn new skills all day long, so that’s always a good thing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned in the future, when I have more time to visit places better suited to the types of photography that I did on this trip. It was a nice change of pace from chasing birds as I do most of the time.

One of the key things I learned on this trip, as well as over the past year or so, is the importance of scouting in advance. But, since I’ve been so long-winded already in this post, I should wait until later before going deeper into that subject.

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


I suppose that it doesn’t matter

Since I recently purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, I’ve had a chance to see the possibilities of what my photos will look like from now on when I use that camera when compared to the 7D Mk II camera I have been using. I find myself with my bank account drained again, while I would rather have the money to travel to places besides Muskegon. So, I’ve been asking myself, “Was it worth it?”.

I’m not really sure yet, although the details that I see in the images that I’ve shot with the 5D have truly amazed me.

Silver spotted skipper butterfly

The thing is though, readers of my blog or people who see my photos on Facebook can’t see the same level of detail in the images that I can, because I reduce the quality of the images before I post them anywhere on the web. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the fine details in the fibers covering the skipper is well beyond what I would have gotten using the 7D camera.

And, that image was shot at ISO 10000, and while there is some noise in the image, it’s not so much that I felt the need to use Lightroom to reduce the noise, which would also reduce the fine details at least slightly.

There’s another reason to love the better higher ISO performance of the 5D, I can manually raise the ISO somewhat to boost my shutter speeds which results in sharper images as well. Seeing a pair of green herons at dawn yesterday is a perfect example.

Green heron

You can tell that the light was still low from how wide the heron’s pupils are.

Green heron

I was shooting this heron with the settings that the camera came up with, but I won’t bore you with the exact exposure settings, this is boring enough to most of you. I saw that my shutter speed was slower than I would have liked, but that I could raise the ISO two full stops without getting noise with the 5D, so I did, and that meant that my shutter speed was two full stops faster as well.

Green heron watching another land in the same tree

So, here’s the second heron as it bobbed in the wind above the first heron.

Green heron

There’s no way of knowing, since I didn’t change settings back and forth, but I doubt if that last photo would have been as sharp if it had been shot at a slower shutter speed because of the heron’s movements.

Color accuracy is another reason to love the 5D…

Ironweed

…as this color was one that I’ve had trouble with all of my crop sensor cameras in the past. And once again, I love the fine details when I moved closer.

Ironweed

A sidenote, ever since I began thinking of testing focus stacking software to extend the depth of field that I can get in my images, it’s been windy every chance that I’ve had to be out with the camera. To use the focus stacking software, I would think that you the images would need to be shot from the same place, with the subject in the same place, and the wind has made that impossible. I wasn’t even able to get a good image of this English plantain due to the wind…

English plantain

…even though it was sheltered from the wind by a rock. I could see the flower parts vibrating in the breeze even as I held the stem of the plant with my free hand.

I suppose that none of this matters, since I’ve made the purchase and there’s no going back. It’s up to me to make the best of the situation that I’ve put myself in. There are still plenty of opportunities for me to get very good images from the places that I’m limited to now by my budget, I just have to look a little harder, and work a little harder, especially at putting myself in the right place at the right time.

I sort of did that the day after I began this post and wrote what I have so far, along with the photos that I put in this post to this point. On my second day off from work, I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility well before sunrise. It was a foggy beginning to the day, so as I waited to see what the sunrise would bring, I saw this scene…

Misty morning

…and thought that it would be a good chance to try the new 5D out on long exposures. (By the way, there’s a flock of sandhill cranes in the reflections of the trees on the opposite shore to the right side of that image.)

On the plus side, somehow or another I guessed correctly how long to leave the shutter open, 1 minute and 10 seconds. I haven’t done very much photography in that low of light, so how I got it right first shot is beyond me.

On the negative side, I had the great idea of shooting a video to record all the birds singing at that time of day. However, it was so dark that I plugged the external microphone into the wrong jack of the camera, so I got video with no sound. I’ve said plenty of times that sunrise is the best time of day for birding, and if I had been able to record the sounds of the birds, I would have been able to offer audible evidence of that. Just a few minutes later, the birds had quit singing, and had begun looking for breakfast. That is also a good thing, as the birds are actively searching for food, and by mid-morning, they are ready for a nap, and therefore harder to find.

The video that I shot did turn out well, other than no sound, so that was another plus.

I had high hopes that as the sun rose and began to burn through the fog that I’d have the magic light that I’m always searching for, but it didn’t happen, again. A couple of years ago, it seemed like I was finding it often, that must run in cycles.

Anyway, as I sat there waiting to see what the sunrise would bring, waiting to see what the cranes would do around the same time, I saw the bucks that I had spooked without getting a photo the previous week on their way home to bed for the day.

Two whitetail bucks

The third buck was already out in the farm field there.

Whitetail buck

These photos are extremely noisy, but I put no effort into removing the noise, because I wasn’t close enough to get a good image anyway. The ISO setting required was well beyond what I could have used with the 7D though, and I was able to get photos of the deer with the 5D that would have been impossible with the 7D, especially when the bucks were trotting.

Whitetail buck

In fact, I got two at once.

Whitetail bucks

They could tell that I was there…

Whitetail bucks

…and I even got a shot of all three together.

Whitetail bucks

If I had been using my tripod, as I should have, then I could have gone lower with the ISO and to a slower shutter speed when the bucks paused to look at me, especially if I had been using the portable hide. However, behind me as I shot the deer, the sandhill cranes were beginning to dance and stretch their wings as the light slowly increased…

Sandhill cranes and a great blue heron

…and once again, there was a great blue heron in with the cranes that was also joining in the action.

A few of the cranes flew off from time to time, and some of those returned a short time later.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Every time that I think about setting up the portable hide to get closer to my subjects, I face the same question, where exactly do I set it up.

I’m getting a handle on the path that the deer take as they cross the farm field to get to a swale where they spend the daylight hours, so I could arrive before dawn, and be set-up to wait for them. However, with my luck, the deer would take a different route home if I did that, and I wouldn’t be able to see the cranes from there.

The cranes have decided to use the man-made lake as their place to spend the nights this year, so I may be able to sneak up on them before dawn and set the hide up and get closer to them. But, that would mean that I’d miss the deer.

And, you never know what’s going to appear when in nature, for an eagle made a low pass over the lake…

Bald eagle in flight

…and out of nowhere, two coyotes ran along the shore behind the sandhill cranes…

Coyotes on the run

…but by the time I saw what was happening, the coyotes had already passed the flock of cranes.

Coyotes on the run

I have a lot more poor photos of the wildlife that I saw while I waited to see what the sunrise would be like, flocks of Canada geese and mallards flying past, a wood duck landing in the lake, and a northern cardinal flying across the lake, but I think that you get the idea, there was something that I could have photographed almost everywhere I looked that morning at that time of day. Around sunrise, the entire animal kingdom seems to be active, which is why it’s my favorite time of the day.

But, one more example shot as I was testing the 5D to see how well it could track a bird in flight in very low light…

Sandhill cranes and a green heron in flight

…if you look in the bottom right of the frame, you’ll see a green heron in flight, it’s hard not to see plenty of wildlife at sunrise.

Okay, I should know by now that many people will find the photos above that I shot in very poor light interesting for their content. And I should know by now, that when the sun shines…

Grey catbird

…and I stand quietly, partially hidden in the brush…

Grey catbird

…that I’ll get very good images, even if they are of a common species of bird.

Grey catbird

And, I never know what I’ll find to photograph while standing in the brush…

Wasp killing a katydid

…I might find insects rather than the bird I’m waiting to see…

Wasp killing a katydid

…as I did in this instance.

Wasp killing a katydid

I said earlier that catching magic light must run in cycles, the same must be true when it comes to which species of birds that I see, and which ones I can get close enough to for good images. I’ve been trying to find and photograph green herons well for the past few years, and most of the time when I’ve found them, they were out of range. Not so this summer, they’re everywhere.

Green heron

That was shot with the 5D, 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter. Since the heron seemed comfortable with my being so close, I swapped the tele-converter to the 2 X for these next three.

Green heron

I have to focus manually when using that set-up, and my shutter speed gets slower due to the loss of light with the extender…

Green heron

…but I like the bit of motion blur in that last one as the heron fluffed its feathers…

Green heron

…and I can follow that image with one that’s very sharp. I’m not sure why it is, but the 5D works even better with the 2 X extender than the 7D does, and I had no qualms using that extender with the 7D. I see almost no loss of image quality at all when I view these full size on my computer. Maybe it’s because the 5D has more resolution than the 7D does to begin with?

Okay, I know that my current dissatisfaction with going to the same places shooting about the same subjects all the time is being driven by the need that I feel to explore my more creative side when it comes to photography.

Purple loosestrife

Also, to shoot more photos in other genres than just birds and wildlife, such as landscapes or night photography. I may get my chance next weekend, as that’s when the Perseid meteor shower occurs. And as luck would have it this year, it’s also during the new moon, so the light from the moon won’t interfere with shooting the meteors. It would also be a good time to attempt to shoot the Milky Way, so if the weather forecast looks good, I think that I’ll give it a try.

I really need an attitude adjustment, for I feel like I’m in a slump when I’m not. Purchasing the 5D has made another jump in the quality of images that I’m shooting, but at the same time, I’m also experimenting more often, and the results aren’t always what I hoped that they would be. Sometimes, I know that when I press the shutter release, as with this photo.

Sunflowers on a cloudy day

When I was preparing to shoot that photo, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with it, I really wanted bright blue sky behind the sunflowers rather than unattractive grey clouds. A bright blue background would have created more of a color contrast between the yellow flowers and the sky, making the image much better. Also, I couldn’t get the composition exactly as I wanted it because of the lens that I had to use. The lens was the 70-200 mm, which is a fine lens, but it wasn’t wide enough at 70 mm for the way that I wanted the image to look. I could have gone to the 16-35 mm lens, in fact, I did look the scene over with that lens, but it was too wide. So, I more or less gave up on that and just shot that photo as another failed experiment for future reference. I probably could have done better if I hadn’t taken the attitude towards the scene that I did.

With a slightly wider lens, I would have gotten closer to the flowers, and lower, so that the trees and open field in the background wouldn’t have been distractions from the flowers. Oh well, I learn from even these failed experiments, and one of these days, everything will fall into place for me.

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