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

Archive for June, 2019

A focus on flowers

It’s been a cool, very wet spring here in West Michigan. Too many of my few days off from work have been total washouts due to rain. Last Thursday was much the same, no matter when I get up on my last few days off, it seems as though the rain is just moving into the area when I check the radar, no matter what the forecast said the night before.

With rain just starting to fall, I had some errands to run, so while I hoped that the rain wouldn’t last long, I loaded my camera gear into my Subaru to run the errands. I thought maybe the rain would end early, and I’d be able to go somewhere to chase birds, but that didn’t happen. However, when I stopped at the bank to take care of some business, I noticed this domesticated viburnum bush there.

Domesticated viburnum?

That was shot with my 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm, as I was trying for as much depth of field as I could get. I probably looked like an idiot out there in the light rain trying to get the best composition possible, but I no longer care what people think of me, which helps.

On my way to the surplus bread store to pick-up a loaf of bread, I remembered an image posted by Allen who does the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, a must read in my opinion, of some creeping phlox that I really liked. I also remembered that after seeing his image, that creeping phlox had been planted at a local church on my way to the bread store, so I stopped to shoot this.

Cascades of color, creeping phlox

That was shot with the 24-70 mm lens, set at 31 mm. I used the same lens for this old water tower on the grounds of a Christian hospital that I’ve been meaning to shoot for years.

Historic water tower in Cutlerville, Michigan

There’s also a chapel on the grounds of the hospital that I thought that I’d like to shoot, but upon closer inspection, it’s in very poor condition, and I think that they’re beginning the process of tearing it down.

I stopped at the local park near me to shoot this, also with the 24-70 mm lens.

Dame’s rocket flowers in a sea of green

I went back to the 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm for this one.

White pine flowers

I switched to the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender for these two, as I didn’t want to lay down in the puddle surrounding this dandelion to get the images.

Dandelion seeds

I’m not sure which of these two I prefer, so I’m posting both.

Dandelion seeds

My final stop of the day was at the local camera store to pick-up more ink for my printer. While I was there, I also tested out Canon’s 35 mm macro lens.

That lens is interesting, it’s small and light, and has a built-in LED light in the front of the lens to illuminate whatever subject that you’re shooting. I thought that the built-in light was just a gimmick, but after trying the lens out in the store, it showed much more promise than I thought that it would. I had also brought my 100 mm macro lens in the store with me so that I could shoot photos with it to compare the two macro lenses. The 35 mm lens with the light on it allowed me to shoot some very sharp photos in the rather dark store. When I tried to duplicate those photos with my 100 mm macro lens, the first thing that I noticed was that my shutter speed got significantly longer, and I was only able to get one sharp image, the rest were all blurry due to camera shake. Also, the ISO increased dramatically when I used my existing 100 mm lens compared to the 35 mm lens with the built-in light.

So, the built-in light definitely helps a great deal, my estimate is that it adds three to four stops of additional light on the subject, at least in the test photos that I shot.

It’s an EF S lens, meaning that it only fits crop sensor camera bodies such as my 7D Mk II, which is one reason that I never gave that lens much thought before. Now that I have the full-frame 5D Mk IV, I thought that I’d only purchase lenses that would fit on it, but now I’m not so sure.

Before I go on any longer at this point, let me throw in a number of images of columbine flowers that I shot the day after the photos so far.

Columbine flower take 1


Columbine flower take 2


Columbine flower take 3


Columbine flower take 4


Columbine flower take 5

I shot those testing different sources of lighting, and different angles to get different backgrounds, all part of my attempts to get better, more artistic images of flowers and other macro subjects. They were all shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D Mk II body, only because I’ve more or less dedicated one of the 7D bodies to macro photography, even though the 5D Mk IV would probably have resulted in even better images.

My last weekend off has left me much to ponder over the coming weeks, as I try to figure out various options that will allow me to shoot the images that I have in mind.

One thing has become clear to me, going to a wider angle lens may not produce any more depth of field over a longer lens, as depth of field also changes with the distance between the camera and the subject. With a wider lens, you have to move closer to the subject to make it as prominent in the image as desired, and when you move closer, the depth of field is reduced also, leaving almost exactly the same amount of a scene in focus as with the longer lens. In fact, there may be depth of field advantages to going to an even longer lens, and moving away from the subject. I’m afraid that using focus stacking software is the only viable way to get more depth of field for the images that I have in mind.

However, that’s not easy either, as there can’t be any motion between the images shot to stack in the software, meaning a tripod has to be used. That’s problematic when shooting flowers outdoors, when even the slightest breeze will move the flowers around in the frame. I suppose that’s why the true masters of macro photography shoot indoors for the most part.

I guess that I’ll never be a true master of macro photography then, as I’m not willing to pick wildflowers or bring other subjects found outdoors home and build elaborate sets to go with the things I found outdoors. I’ve mentioned it before, but I watched a video of some one who built a pond in their home to use as a set for a frog that they obtained by ordering it online. The images that they shot of the frog were stunning, but I’m not willing to go that far, and I prefer to shoot the things that I see in nature around me.

Another thing that’s becoming clear to me is that I’m on the right track in the way that I’m approaching photography these days. When the weather and other conditions are suitable for shooting birds and other wildlife, I do so, and give me a day with good light and light winds, I shoot mostly flowers and all but ignore the birds, other than to listen to their songs as I’m engaged in setting up and shooting flowers. On the same day as I shot the columbine flowers, I also shot these images of wild lupine.

Wild lupine


Wild lupine


Wild lupine


Wild lupine


Wild lupine

None of those were all that special, but they do reflect my mood at the time, happy for some good weather for a change, and basking in the beauty of the lupine. I did keep an eye out for a Karner’s blue butterfly, an endangered species that is associated with lupine plants, but I didn’t spot any.

Now then, here comes another series of photos…

Unidentified flowering objects

…as I often begin by shooting a group of flowers to help me get the exposure correct…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…but insects distract me from the flowers…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…especially this insect which was more purple in real life than the images show…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…but after the insect left, I got the shot of the flower I thought was the best I could do.

Unidentified flowering object

Now then, time for some more boring talk about photography gear, and pulling various things from this post so far together.

Since the 35 mm macro lens with the built-in LED light is a bargain, and my testing in the store proved to me that the LED light could make a difference between getting the shot or missing it, I think that I’ll purchase one in a few months. That will require a few more changes in the way that I approach macro photography though, as the very short working distance between the 35 mm lens and the subject makes it close to impossible to use when photographing insects.

That may not be a bad thing though, as I really could have used an extension tube behind the 100 mm macro lens while I was shooting the purple pollinator, whatever it was. Readers may not remember this, but last year I was set-up with an extension tube behind the macro lens to photograph dandelions when a tiny green bee landed on the flower I was shooting. The fact that I was ready by accident lead to some very good images of the bee, better than I’d ever shot before.

When photographing birds, I’ve learned to use both the 5D and 7D in an effective combination that allows me to get shots that I probably would have missed if I weren’t using both cameras. The same applies to when I’m shooting landscapes with one camera body, and other subjects with the second camera. There’s no reason that I couldn’t do the same thing while I’m shooting macros.

Since the 35 mm macro lens will only fit on the 7D, I could use that for flowers, making use of the built-in LED light for that purpose. I could also have the 5D set-up with the 100 mm macro lens and extension tube to shoot larger than life-size images on the 5D if an insect comes along. I’m just afraid that once I begin using the 5D for macro photography more often, its better color reproduction over the 7D will make me want to use the 5D all the time. Although, the difference in color reproduction is negligible in very good light, as this image shot with the 7D shows.

Red honeysuckle

It’s only in low light when I’m too lazy add lighting to macro photos shot with the 7D that image quality suffers.

Unidentified flowering objects


Unidentified flowering objects

However, it would have been much easier to shoot the images of the columbine while shooting up at the flowers with the much shorter and lighter 35 mm macro lens, and the built-in light would have been very useful as well. It wasn’t easy to get under the columbine flower with the long, heavy 100 mm macro lens, and hold steady enough for sharp images while I shot them.

The homemade macro lighting rig that I built and is still in development can be quickly and easily be moved from one camera body to the other, as one of the things that I added to it was a quick-release clamp that fits the quick-release plates that I have installed on all of my cameras. I do have to find a better cold shoe or other method of attaching my flash unit to the rig though. Hopefully, I’ll have the lighting rig sorted out soon, as it’s worked great so far.

I have more flower photos, but for right now, I’m going to throw in a few photos of an American kestrel that I shot earlier this spring.

Male American kestrel in flight


Male American kestrel in flight


Male American kestrel in flight


Male American kestrel in flight

I’ve held on to those for months, hoping that I’d shoot better images of a kestrel. That may happen someday, but these will have to do for the time being.

Two more things I should mention before ending this post. First, I’m in the middle of the change in schedules for work, and it’s going to take me a week or two to adjust to this new schedule.

Second, and more important, is that I’m going to have to find some new places to go to shoot photos. Because of all the snow we received last winter, and the excess rain so far this spring, the water level of Lake Michigan has risen to set a record for the month of May. Because Muskegon Lake is connected to Lake Michigan, its level has also risen, to the point where most of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is flooded. The same applies to the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park, and the hiking trail back to Lost Lake, at least the portions where I used to shoot the most photos are flooded.

I need to find some higher ground for the summer, and probably well beyond. The Muskegon County wastewater facility is still a viable option, but only for a few birds and flowers over the summer months, there isn’t the variety that I’d prefer to photograph. Oh well, I’ll take this as a challenge, and as a way to expand the scope of things that I photograph.

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