2018, a look back, and ahead
It’s getting close to the end of the year, so I suppose that it’s time to take a look back at a few of the photos that I shot this year.
It’s been a big year for me as far as how much my skill as a photographer has improved. In selecting the photos to put in this post, I’m including subjects that I rarely photograph just as a change of pace as much as I can, along with photos that I shot this year that taught me a great deal as I shot them.
Even at the beginning of this past year, I was shooting and hoping that I’d get a photo good enough to post here in my blog. Looking back at the photos that I posted from January, I see that there weren’t many, mostly due to the weather, but also because of a lack of subjects to photograph.
Those two aren’t bad, but I could do so much better now, especially the one of the eagle in flight, that it’s apparent to me now how much my images have improved this year.
February of 2018 was also cold and snowy as I remember…
…but there were a few sunny days…
…and being a bit bored by the lack of subjects to shoot, I began experimenting more, using my 16-35 mm lens to shoot a flock of gulls in flight.
March brought the first flowers of the year…
…along with a couple of subjects that I rarely see…
…which may not be all that bad.
As I remember it, April was also well below average as far as both temperature and sunshine…
…so I expanded the range of subjects that I shoot to include these night scenes from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live.
I also learned a good deal about macro photography as I shot the following image.
I had shot many good macro images before that one, but it was one of the first warm days of the year, and I was laying on the ground to shoot the dandelion flowers when the bee landed near me. Not being in any hurry to move, I played around with the camera and lens settings, and also put an extension tube behind the macro lens.
May of 2018 was our first warm month of the year, in fact, it was as if some one had flipped a switch, and we went from winter to summer in just a week or so. With the quick flip in the weather, the birds migrating north were in a hurry to reach their destination, so it seemed as if they all passed through the area in only a week or two. It was in May as I was shooting migrating warblers that I decided to upgrade from the crop sensor Canon 7D Mk II to the full frame sensor 5D Mk IV, based on the images that I shot one dreary day.
The 7D Mk II is a fine camera when there’s enough light for it though, as these images show.
And, since it will shoot 10 frames per second, I still prefer it over the 5D when shooting action images, such as this one.
And, I was still working on my camera settings and techniques to shoot birds in flight.
June brought more flowers, and I began to work on improving my images of them.
Especially when it comes to adding extra light with my flash unit to get good sharp images without any harsh shadows present in the images.
I also discovered an osprey nest about an hour drive from where I live, so I visited it a few times to get this image of a male osprey returning to the nest with what’s left of a fish after he had eaten his share of it.
I also increased the number of landscape images that I was shooting to work on my skills in that genre of photography.
The time that I spent at the osprey nest and at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve helped me to hone my images of birds in flight to the point where they are nearly as good as my images of perched birds.
July of 2018 saw me trying my hand at more night photography, in this case, the fireworks on the 4th.
Even though most of the landscape photos that I shot over the summer weren’t good enough to post in my blog, I continued to plug away at improving my skills.
And, with all the time that I’d been putting into improving my bird in flight images, it was time to tackle one of the hardest birds to photograph in flight.
I also continued to work on my macro photos when time permitted, both insects…
August is when I purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, and I was stunned by the increase in its dynamic range over the crop sensor cameras I had been using.
On a scouting trip up north, I put the new 5D to the test, shooting the Milky Way at night (of course).
Along with learning to use it for landscapes.
I spent a day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park testing out my newer lenses, my trusty 100 mm macro lens, and a lighting rig that I’m still working on to shoot images of the tiny world around us, both wider shots…
…and close up.
With the purchase of the 5D, I could now use one of my 7D bodies for dedicated macro work, rather than one of my older Canon 60D bodies that I had been using.
I think that the results speak for themselves.
All summer long, I noticed that I was slowing down, putting more thought into my photos before I shot them, and that trend has continued.
September was the month when I began putting all the things that I had learned up until then together, and I found that the rate of keepers I was getting each time I went out with the camera was going up, even though I was shooting fewer subjects in any one outing.
I found that there was almost no learning curve involved when I began using the 5D Mk IV along with the 7D Mk II, they’re both from Canon’s line of professional cameras, and the only real difference is the much higher image quality of the 5D. However, I also found out that what I learned using the 5D was transferable to the 7D most of the time, other than the 5D’s improved low-light performance and higher dynamic range. So, as long as I use the 7D in good light, I see very little loss of image quality when I use it rather than the 5D.
I was hoping for a splendid display of fall colors here in Michigan during the month of October, but it wasn’t to be, due to the weather again. But, I did try my best…
…but finding bright colorful leaves was tough to do this year.
It was on the trip up north where I shot the images above that I learned just how well the new 5D works in low light when I shot this eagle in flight.
I’ve detailed how I got that image and the settings used before, so I won’t repeat myself again. I will say that the 5D has three user saved modes available, and that I have two set for birds in flight under different lighting conditions, one of which I used here. The third one I have set for shooting landscapes, so when a scene such as this one appears, I have to only turn the mode dial to the correct saved mode to shoot such scenes.
And, I still use the 7D for action photos.
We had our second gloomiest November on record this year, with more than twice as many days with completely overcast skies than days when we saw any sunshine at all. With the flowers and insects gone for the year, I was left with birds…
…and landscapes to photograph.
I did make the best of a few hours of sunshine that I had while I was out with my gear.
In my last regular post I said that I had a growing feeling of contentment as far as my photography is concerned, and that has come from my growing confidence in my gear, and my ability to use it effectively. I think that many of the images in this post show that, especially when I’ve begun shooting subjects that I had never shot in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t still be trying to improve my images even more as time goes on. And, that means that I’ll still be experimenting, as I did in these next two images from December.
I saw the a stiff wind was blowing freshly fallen snow across the ice at he Muskegon wastewater facility, and tried to get a photo to show that.
I wasn’t happy with the images that I got, so I thought that this would be a good time to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens so that I could reduce my shutter speed to show more of the snow coming across the ice, and so that it would appear like moving water does in long exposures. I haven’t used the neutral density filters that I have very often, and I still have a lot to learn, as this attempt shows.
I think that I had the right idea, but that my execution was bad. In the second photo, the weeds in the foreground aren’t sharp, because they were moving with the wind, just as the snow was. The second one does show more of the snow blowing over the ice, but it took me so long to get set-up, that I missed the best display of what I was trying to capture. I should have stuck around longer, for I’m sure that the amount of snow increased again later, but it was darned cold out there exposed to the wind.
Also, the ND filters that I have are 6 stop reduction of light, which to some one used to trying to get as much light into the camera as possible, seemed like a huge amount of light loss. But, I learned that 6 stops weren’t enough, I could have used a 10 stop ND filter, as 6 stops only got me down to a 1.6 second exposure versus 1/30 of a second without the filter. So, while I consider this experiment a bust, I did learn from it, and that’s what matters.
I’m also learning that I may have to rethink how and when to go about getting the best images of colorful birds in flight images.
On a cloudy day, there are no harsh shadows anywhere in that image, and the vivid colors of the mallards show up very well.
My mistakes in these images were that I used the 7D, and therefore there’s too much noise in the images, and I had the 400 mm prime lens on the camera because I didn’t expect the mallards to be where they were. If the mallards had been closer, the 400 mm lens would have been okay if I’d been able to get only one of the mallards in the frame, but it’s too long for flock shots.
Of course it takes a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the birds and the water drops that are part of the experience of seeing a flock of ducks take off, so the ISO required on a cloudy day would have made the 5D a better camera choice, since it does so much better than the 7D in such circumstances. However, as I’ve noted in the past, the higher frame rate of the 7D helps to get such photos. So, I have made changes in my settings in the 5D in the way that it records the photos to both cards in it, the fast CF card, and the much slower SD card. I have the 5D record RAW images to the CF card, but large JPEG to the SD card, so that the buffer of the camera doesn’t fill as quickly as when I recorded RAW images to both cards.
I haven’t had a chance to put the new settings to the torture test yet, but it should help the 5D’s frame rate enough to make it more suitable for action photography. That’s what it’s all about, learning your gear inside and out to get the best possible images that you can. And, that’s why my confidence in my gear continues to grow as I learn the little tweaks that help me to get the images that I want.
Since I wrote that, I have tested the new settings for how the camera records to both cards, and it does seem to help to speed the 5D up a little.
Also, it has occurred to me that shooting flocks of birds in flight is more similar to landscape photography than shooting a single bird in flight. The focal length of the lens is far more important when shooting flocks of birds. That’s because of how much long focal length lens compress the distances between both the birds and the background, and also because the depth of field increases with shorter lenses versus longer lenses. While I’m tempted to go on at length about that, I won’t, I’ll only add one last image that I recently shot with my 70-200 mm lens.
While I was hoping that more of the thousands of geese present would take flight, this one taught me a good deal more about how to go about getting the shots that I’d like to eventually get.
It’s now officially winter, as of today. From now on, for the next 6 months, the hours of daylight will be getting longer again. We had a few sunny days lately, but never when I had time off from work to shoot any photos. So, I haven’t shot many photos lately, and the ones that I have shot are mostly of eagles. My next post will be another in the My Photo Life List project, but the next real post that I do will be of the eagles in action.
Also, with Christmas coming up in a few days, I will take this opportunity to wish every one a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, which ever you prefer.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!