Tahquamenon Falls and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, I’ll get to the reason later, maybe. I think that I’ll focus more on photos, and less on the written word.
On the plus side, I hit the area at the time of peak color in the leaves on the trees and with plenty of water flowing over the waterfalls that I photographed. On the minus side, the weather was horrible the least four days of my one week vacation in the area. There was even snow on the ground as I was heading home.
This is a image I shot on my way home, and it’s one of my favorites from the trip, even if it isn’t spectacular.
Maybe one of the reasons I ike this one so much is that it isn’t one of the big name tourist attractions I visited, It’s something I noticed and photographed on my own.
But, back to the beginning of my trip. I started at Michigan’s Tahquamenon Falls State Park, camping there to photograph the falls and anything else I found. Here are the upper falls in all their glory…
…up close, then moving farther away…
…as I stopped at every location along the short trail that offers views of the falls, until I shot this one…
…which is why so many people visit the falls in autumn.
The “problem” with both the upper falls seen above, and the lower falls…
…is that you’re limited to staying on a boardwalk that only gives one limited views of the falls. The lower falls are really a series of small cascades, and while they’re pretty, don’t have the impact of the upper falls.
It didn’t help that I was at the lower falls at the wrong time of day, with one side of the river in full sun, and the other side in full shade. Also, as happened all week long at any of the big name spots, I had to wait in line for a chance to shoot the photos that I did, and I didn’t want to take too much time at any one location so that the people waiting would be able to take my place once I had finished shooting.
Another factor in my decisions as when to go where is that I had done a lot of research into the subjects that I wanted to photograph on this trip, and I knew that even though I attempted to keep it to a reasonable number, there were more places on my list than what I would have time for. And, I didn’t want to burn myself out as I did on my last trip to Michigan’s upper peninsula, when I found myself barely able to function by the 5th day due to not eating right or staying hydrated.
One other thing that I should mention too, during the time of my trip, many of the businesses and even government campgrounds are beginning to close for the winter season. This contributed to the long lines I encountered everywhere, from the scenic wonders to photograph, to waiting for over an hour for a bowl of chili at a local eatery. Major portions of my time during this trip were spent waiting, but I held up well for the entire week.
Anyway, here are a few photos that I shot in the Tahquamenon Falls area, mostly in the campground itself.
I spent two nights there, then it was time to pack up and head to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Along the way, I stopped to shoot the Crisp Point Lighthouse…
I climbed the lighthouse, and crawled through a tiny doorway at the top to shoot these next two.
The weather was already changing for the worse, I had to brace my knees against the railing on top of the lighthouse, and push my back into the glass of it to keep myself steady due to the wind. As stiff as the wind was, it was from the south, so Lake Superior, the body of water in these images, was still relatively calm. I was wishing the wind was from the north to build up some large waves that Lake Superior is known for, but I took what I could get.
Not long after that, as I was on my way to the Lower Hurricane River campground in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, it began to rain, moderately hard at times, very hard at others. But before the rain became unbearable, I did stop to shoot these images on the way.
I loved that scene, but I screwed up, I should have zoomed in a bit tighter on the red leaves of the trees, and the golden vegetation at the back of this pond. I did shoot another image while zoomed in, but for that one, I went too far, and lost the other parts of the scene that really are needed to convey how attractive I found it.
I could have shot hundreds of images from along the road like the one above, as I said, I was there for peak color, and just driving down the roads was awe inspiring.
I made it to the Lower Hurricane River Campground, and managed to get my tent set up during a lull in the rain, without getting too much water in the tent. I dried it out best I could, then went into town for food, making it a good day over all.
The next morning, I woke up to intermittent rain showers, interspersed with sunny periods later in the morning. I spent most of the morning at the mouth of the Hurricane River, which may be one of the most photogenic small areas in Michigan.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment during this trip was that of all the time I spent at the campground, the weather and the lighting never really changed there. I never got a good sunrise or sunset image, nor enough light to freeze the motion of the Hurricane River as it cascades into Lake Superior. I may have included too many images of it, but I spent several hours there, setting up my tripod in various spots, shooting what caught my eye. And, even though I spent quite a bit of time there, and shot many images, I could have easily spent much more time there. As a budding photographer, I truly enjoyed this area more than many of the other places I visited because there were few people there, and I wasn’t limited to shooting from a designated spot as I was in many other places that I visited.
Still, I’m quite proud of these images, as I had to wait until there was a lull in the wind so that the vegetation wasn’t moving as the shutter was open for long periods of time as I shot these.
I’m about to wrap this post up, but first I have to go back to the upper Tahquamenon Falls and a video that I shot there to give every one an idea of what it’s like to be there in person.
Now then, for some boring photo talk. All of these images were shot with the Canon 5D Mk IV, some are HDR images, most are not. I probably would have shot more HDR images if it hadn’t been for the wind which plagued me the second half of the week. The lulls in the wind weren’t long enough to shoot three images without the vegetation moving, I had enough trouble getting good sharp single images with the winds gusting to over 30 MPH most of the time. Also, the 24-70 mm f/4 lens was my workhorse lens for this trip, I only occasionally switched to the 16-35 mm f/4 lens, and I did shoot a few using my 100-400 mm lens as well.
In my next post, there will be plenty of images of the various waterfalls that I visited, along with a few other scenic wonders as well. It was with out a doubt one of my best vacations ever despite the weather and the crowds.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I went back to the 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm for this one.
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.
I’m not sure which of these two I prefer, so I’m posting both.
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.
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.
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…
…as I often begin by shooting a group of flowers to help me get the exposure correct…
…but insects distract me from the flowers…
…especially this insect which was more purple in real life than the images show…
…but after the insect left, I got the shot of the flower I thought was the best I could do.
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.
It’s only in low light when I’m too lazy add lighting to macro photos shot with the 7D that image quality suffers.
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.
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!
This will be a quick post of a series of images of a mute swan that I shot as she chased an interloper away from her nest.
The female must have made a poor choice in mates, usually the male will chase any intruders away, but he left it to the female.
I thought about zooming out to keep both swans in the frame…
…but this was my chance for close-ups of a single swan in motion.
I also thought about going to a faster shutter speed, but I didn’t really have time to do so…
…and I like the amount of motion blur that’s in these images…
…while freezing the action enough so that the swan’s head and eye are good and sharp.
I may have cut off her wings slightly…
…but I was concentrating on keeping the single focus point where it needed to be…
…while following the action.
With the chase over, I couldn’t resist shooting this photo.
With the female swan off chasing the intruder away, the male went to the nest to make sure that the eggs were protected, I’m hoping to see cygnets soon.
Here’s the male on the nest, I was worried that he may come after me, but he didn’t.
I was a little surprised that the male didn’t cover the eggs immediately, but when the female returned, I learned something.
After carefully inspecting the eggs as you can see in the photo above, she spent several minutes drying herself off before finally settling back down to cover the eggs. That makes sense after I had watched her, the water is still cold and may have harmed the eggs if she had gotten them wet. Once the female had settled back down on the nest, the male hung around, picking up some more dried reeds and dropping them where the female could reach them, and she used them to fortify the nest, and to make herself more comfortable while she incubates the eggs.
Of course I have no way of knowing how old these swans are, but I’ve found it odd that the male doesn’t stick closer to the nest than he does. In my visits to the area, he’s often completely out of sight, leaving the female completely alone, which I’ve found odd from having watched swans before. It was also odd that he didn’t chase the intruder away also.
I do know that a pair of swans built a nest in the same general area last year, and that eggs were laid in the nest. However, that nest was abandoned with the eggs still in it. So, I wonder if these are two very young swans just learning how to be parents? Also, I don’t know if this is the same pair as the one that abandoned the nest last year.
One quick personal note, I’ve made the final payment on my medical bills from my hospital stay two years ago. That’s a relief. That means that I can begin saving money for the fall vacation that I have scheduled, which I’m really looking forward to, as it will be my first vacation in three years!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Same photos, a lot more words
This post will be my thoughts on photography, with no, or very few new photos, so most of you reading this will probably want to skip this post.
I began my last post with this image of a white-throated sparrow, and there was a very important reason for that.
That was shot with the Canon 5D Mk IV, 100-400 mm lens, with a 1.4 tele-converter behind it. That set-up has a maximum aperture of f/8.
There are times when I start drooling over the thought of owning one of the even longer Canon super telephoto lens, say the 600 mm f/4 lens which sells for $12,999 or perhaps the 400 mm f/2.8 lens, which is a bargain at $11,999. The thing is, neither of those lenses would have gotten that image of the sparrow, as neither will focus as close as the sparrow was to me.
I’ve read articles, watched videos, and done other research on those very expensive lenses, and the lengths that people have to go through to photograph small birds is ridiculous, like stacking extension tubes behind those lenses to get them to focus a little closer to the subject, which then limits how far from the subject one can be and still shoot a photo. You’re stuck shooting photos of subjects within the narrow focusing range of such a set-up.
It isn’t just the focal length that makes me wish for one of those lenses from time to time, it’s also the wider maximum aperture. Not only would that allow more light into the camera, meaning that I could shoot at a lower ISO setting, but it would also limit the depth of field more, causing better separation between the subject and the background.
That may be the case with larger subjects shot at a longer distance, but it doesn’t apply to the sparrow photo above. If you look at the sparrow’s shoulder, it is already going out of focus due to the shallow depth of field, even at f/8, I could have gone to f/11 or even f/16 and still have gotten good separation between the sparrow and the background, for the sparrow’s tail is completely out of focus.
You can’t really see it in the reduced quality JPEG image above, but the amount of detail in the sparrow’s feathers in the original RAW file, or the print that I made of this image, is beyond what the average person viewing this image is probably going to notice. Shot at ISO 2500 with the 5D, there isn’t much noise in this image either, at least not so much that the average person would notice it. If the amount of noise was objectionable, it could be removed easily in Lightroom at that ISO.
So, what does all of this mean? It means that I already have the best set-up that I can get to produce very good images of smaller birds, and that there’s no reason for me to continue drooling over those longer, expensive lenses, that I’ll never be able to afford any way. It also means that unless I want to impress other photographers rather than the average person, that the cameras that I’m using now, the 5D Mk IV and 7D Mk II, are all that I’ll ever need. That more or less applies to lenses as well, it’s better to get closer to the subject than to rely on longer focal length lenses to get the image, as atmospherics come into play with long lenses at greater distances.
Everything that I’ve said so far also applies to this image from my last post.
Yes, he was on one of the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but that image is too good not to use. The other photos of him as he approached the feeder a little closer in steps as he decided whether or not I posed a threat to him are also good.
The background isn’t quite as out of focus as I’d like, but it isn’t bad, and the emerging leaves near the grosbeak tell you that this image was shot in the spring, so I like this shot.
Now then, back to photo gear. It becomes more apparent to me all the time that one of the biggest things having to do with image quality is knowing your equipment inside out and upside down. The combination of cameras that I’m using now, the 5D Mk IV and the 7D Mk II make this easier because the controls on both bodies are almost identical. I don’t have to fumble around and remember how to set each of them, it’s becoming automatic, my fingers and thumbs know from muscle memory where the controls I need to adjust are. I’m to the point now where I can use either body at night in almost total darkness because I know exactly where the buttons and dials that I need to use are located without even looking at the camera.
That was made clear to me when I looked at one of the new Canon mirrorless cameras in the store. I was at a complete loss how to set even the most basic functions because that camera is completely different that the ones that I’m using now. The salesman had to give me instructions on how to make the changes that I wanted to make. I’m sure that it wouldn’t take me long to learn a new body, but why should I?
As I said, unless I’m trying to impress pixel peepers, what I’m using now is more than good enough, as I hope that my images show.
I’m thinking about reviving a second blog that I was using to post my best images in, and posting my best full resolution images there so that viewers will be able to see the details in a bird’s feathers, or…
…in the flowers that I photograph.
One of the things that’s helping me to improve my macro photos is using one of the 7D bodies that I have and leaving it dedicated to macro photography. The rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit also helps, and in addition, I’ve begun using the LED light that I have on sunnier days when the flash is too much, but there are still shadows that need to be filled.
To be honest, the LED light didn’t help much when I was using a 60D body the same way, dedicated to macros, due to that camera’s lack of dynamic range. The 7D may not be able to match the 5D’s dynamic range, but the LED light seems to be enough to kill shadows with the 7D, so I’ll stick to that for now. And by the way, I’m shooting macros in the manual mode these days, and I often opt for manual focus as well, as with the photo of the purple flower above.
My basic settings are 1/200 second at f/16 to prevent camera shake and still get the depth of field required. If I’m using natural light or the LED light, I use auto ISO and let the camera set the exposure by adjusting the ISO. If I’m using the flash, then I find it best to set the ISO manually so that I can control the output of the flash better.
When it comes to manual focus, I try to nearly fill the frame with the subject, and that’s usually close to the minimum focus of the macro lens. However, auto-focus doesn’t seem to work well near the limit, so I set the lens manually, then move myself into position where the subject is in focus.
However, I think that what has helped me improve my macro photos the most is that I seldom try to shoot them on a windy day any longer, unless I have to. I seldom go looking for opportunities to shoot macros on windy days, and instead, on calm days, I’ll devote much more time to macros than to chasing birds. I miss a few flowers because of that, since some flowers are done blooming by the time that I get a day off from work and it’s calm enough to shoot macros.
Okay, I said that I’m very happy with the gear that I have now, and that I see no reason to upgrade any of my existing cameras or lenses. However, I’m leaning towards purchasing a fish eye lens, even though most photographers consider them to be a novelty lens. Canon makes a 8-15 mm true fish eye lens, which has a 180 degree field of view at 8 mm. This is what you get with the lens at 8 mm on a full frame camera.
Sorry, I didn’t remove the lens hood as I’ve never shot with such a wide lens before, so the lens hood was captured in the shot. I was about 6 inches away from the package of socks, which is what intrigues me about this lens.
I’m not a huge fan of the circular image produced by that lens, but it can also produce rectilinear images as well as the circular ones, as this next image shows.
Using Lightroom, I can correct the distortion even more if I want to, but I don’t have an example of that worth posting.
I like the idea of being able to get as close as 6 inches away from a subject and still get everything in focus due to the large depth of field of a lens that wide. By the way, those two were shot a f/4 because I wanted to see the depth of field of that lens wide open.
It is a novelty lens, not really suited to landscapes or interior photos the way that most people use a fish eye lens. I think that it would work well for flowers, lichens, and other small things seen in nature where I have a hard time getting everything in focus using my 100 mm macro lens. And, that lens will also work on the crop sensor 7D, where it would become a 12-24 mm lens, and I’d use it for the same types of subjects on the 7D, but it would also be useful for landscapes on that body at times.
I’m sure that there will be a huge learning curve with that lens as I learn to balance the field of view, depth of field, and the distortion inherent in a lens that wide. But, I have seen a few nature photos shot with a fish eye lens, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I’ve tried to duplicate those photos with my 16-35 mm lens, but its close focusing ability is a foot, and I’ve not been happy with the results. One thing that I’ve learned is that when it comes to extreme wide-angle photography, every mm of focal length and every mm of distance between the camera and the subject make huge differences in the final image produced.
I can also play around with cropping a rectilinear image from a true fish eye image as produced by this lens, I’d guess that you’d say that I’m excited about the possibilities.
The 8-15 mm fish eye lens would also come in handy for night photography of subjects such as the Milky Way, and star trails as well.
Since it is a novelty lens of sorts, a few of the people who purchase it aren’t happy with it, and sell them without having really used them much. I may pick-up one of the slightly used copies that are often available, and save a few hundred dollars on it that way.
I should add that this new found focus on ultra-wide angle photography is due to 16-35 mm lens that I purchased a couple of years ago. I still love that lens as much or more than any other that I own, even though I haven’t had much of a chance to use it lately. I haven’t been shooting many landscapes lately, and the few that I have shot, I’ve done so with the 24-70 mm lens.
It may sound funny since I’ve had the 24-70 mm lens for about a year now, but I’m still learning that lens. Heck, I’m still learning the 7D Mk II, and how to get the best from it. Of course that applies to the 5D Mk IV as well. But that is something that I absolutely love, learning that is, and seeing my images continue to improve over time as I do learn my equipment inside out and upside down.
Changing gears a bit, I’ve been thinking of getting the Sigma 150-500 mm lens out again because it’s the warbler migration season, and the Sigma lens always worked better for me as far as the auto-focus in picking up small birds in the brush. I probably should do that just to see what the image quality is with the Sigma lens on the 5D Mk IV. I still remember making the switch back to the Sigma a couple of years ago while I was on vacation photographing small birds near Alpena, Michigan. However, the image quality that I get from my Canon telephoto lenses is superior to what I get from the Sigma, if I’m able to get the birds in focus.
I spent a very frustrating day at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve yesterday. I was surrounded by hundreds of small birds such as warblers, vireos, and kinglets all day long, but came home with very few photos to show for my time spent there. I grew arm weary, lifting the camera and lens to my eye hundreds of times, but never shooting a single photo most of the time, for the birds moved before the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-convertor could get the bird in focus.
Since the 5D Mk IV has so much more resolution than my older crop sensor cameras, the image quality that I may get with the Sigma lens on the 5D may be a worthwhile trade-off for the much faster auto-focus. At least I’d get more images, even if they would be slightly lower quality than I’d get with the Canon lens. I’ll have to try that next week.
Weather, and how good the light is, will be the deciding factor next week. If there’s good light, I think that the Sigma lens will produce images with high enough quality for my current standards. But, I know that in poor light, the Sigma lens can’t hold a candle to my Canon lenses.
This image didn’t appear in my last post, because I shot it yesterday as I type this.
I shot that just after I had packed most of my camera gear into my vehicle. I had noticed the hawk perched near my apartment, and despite the poor light, decided to try for a photo. That was shot with the 5D, 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-convertor, my normal set-up. The ISO was 3200, and the 5D produced an image with what I think is great detail in so low of light at that ISO setting. I know that the Sigma lens can’t match that, but if there’s enough light the results will be closer to what I get with the Canon lens.
That also reminds me to whine about the weather, and the weather forecasters. It seems like every day that I’ve had off from work for over a month has been either rainy, or the day begins with rain, and eventually the rain ends and there’s been a little sunshine in the late afternoon. On a couple of those days, there wasn’t any rain in the forecast at all, and even if they were predicting the rain would end and the sun would break through the clouds, the forecast has been for that happening much earlier in the day than what actually happened. It’s been disheartening to watch the weather forecast at 11:30 PM showing no rain, only to wake up early to find that it is raining again. It’s pretty bad when they can’t even forecast accurately less than 12 hours out.
Since I plan my days out off based on the weather reports, it’s been a frustrating month or more for me. I’ve gotten up early to take advantage of the fact that birds are most active early in the morning, even migrating birds. I look outside to find that the clouds haven’t moved out as forecast, or that it’s still raining, even though the rain had been forecast to move out by then.
In fact, the weather patterns on my days off from work have been amazingly similar, with the clouds finally starting to break up around noon or a little after each and every day that I’ve been out with my camera. By then, the chances of any dramatic landscape images as the clouds break up are close to zero. It also seems like the clouds continue to move on all afternoon long, so that as sunset approaches, the sky has become cloudless, or nearly so. With no clouds to catch the sun’s fading light, there’s been no reason for me to stick it out until sunset either.
Even though I’ve got much more to say, it’s time to wrap this one up with a couple of quick thoughts.
I’ve had the 5D Mk IV for almost a year now, and I’m loving it and the images it produces.
I’m thinking about doing another road trip on one of my next two days off from work, that will depend on the weather. In the meantime, a not so good image…
…but at least I caught him displaying his crown.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Maybe short and sweet is the way
Well, I’m trying once again to allow people to add their comments to my blog, I hope that I’ve finally set everything correctly this time.
I am going to try something a little different in this post, it will be mostly images, my best of the best the past two weeks, with very little of my thoughts.
Even though that means multiple images of the same species.
How I went about capturing these images isn’t that important to any one but me, I think, but I could be wrong about that.
All that I’ll say is that I continue to play with the equipment that I have, trying to get the best from it.
In my efforts to get the best possible images, I sometimes forget to look at the subject that I’m photographing as well as I should as I concentrate on shooting the image that I want. For example, I thought that these were pale leaves opening, they really caught my eye against the background. But, they were in a position where it would have been hard for me to get closer to them. I had enough trouble not sliding down a steep slope and into a drainage ditch as it was while I was in position to shoot this next one. I was more concerned with getting the shot than identifying what I was shooting, and after blowing the image up on the computer, I believe that what I thought were leaves are actually flowers opening. Either way, I love the color of the background and the fact that it’s completely out of focus so that the flowers stand out better.
Maybe I’m putting too many images into this post, I’ve had two really good weeks in a row…
…with plenty of subjects to photograph…
…with some very good light at times…
…and even slight changes in the light can change how a subject appears in an image, as these two of the grackle show.
I’ve also been working very hard at getting the best background that I can, as you may have been able to notice in these images.
That isn’t easy with these smaller birds…
…but when I find an exceptional individual of a species, I try to stick with it as long as possible, shooting as many images as I can…
…until I get the cleanest background possible.
While this is too many images already, I have one more that I’d like to throw in. This one is of a chickadee that some how lost all of its tail feathers. I can only assume that the loss of its tail was due to a run-in with a predator, perhaps a hawk, or more likely, a feral house cat. The reason I’m including it is that I watched as the chickadee flew, and it did remarkably well despite the lack of a tail to use for directional control.
I’m thinking of doing a long-winded companion post to this one in which I prattle on at length about my current camera gear, any possible future gear that I’m thinking of acquiring, and photography in general. I guess that I should wait to see if I have finally fixed the problem of people not being able to comment to my posts first.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Maybe not so far between
Well, how should I begin this post?
I suppose that I could begin by saying that as of the middle of April, I know that my work schedule is going to change before the middle of May, but I’m not sure what my new schedule will be or when it will begin exactly.
As far as the weather, it’s been a rough month, just last weekend as I type this, I had to drive through another major snowstorm that dumped up to 8 inches of snow along the route that I drive for work. My first day off from work this week was a total washout, it rained most of the day. Yesterday turned out nice after a cloudy, cool, wet start to the day, and I managed a few images worth posting.
As I’ve said, it takes time to get a good image most of the time, but luck and being observant also has their place in the mix. As I was driving from the Muskegon County wastewater facility to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I noticed a loon in a small park that’s built into the median of a major road where the road crosses the Muskegon River. I returned, hoping for a good shot of the loon, but this was the best I could do because of the lighting.
Although it’s not very good, it’s still one of my better images of a loon. But, I hoped that if I hung around the area for a while, that I’d be able to do better. It was while I was standing behind a tree to stay out of the loon’s sight that I noticed these.
I was lucky that they flew into an area where the light was better, and that they turned back towards me slightly as I changed my camera setting from trying to do portraits of the loon to the saved bird in flight settings of the 5D Mk IV.
However, I didn’t do so well with the loon, so there’s no reason to put any more of the images of it that I shot in this post.
After I gave up on the loon, I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and near the entrance, I ran into a huge flock of yellow-rumped warblers. Here are my two best images that I got.
One reason that I’m including these is that they show the differences in coloration between the two subspecies that are most common in Michigan.
The other reason that I’m showing these is that something dawned on me as I watched these and the kinglets, which will come later.
With as many of the butter butts as there was in this flock, I kept kicking myself because of the poor quality of most of the photos of them that I shot. However, they never sit still for more than a few seconds, making it tough to get a clear view of them, acquire a focus lock on them, and squeeze the shutter release before they flit away again.
I have no idea how many of the yellow-rumped warblers were in this flock, it had to have been several dozen at least. A few almost struck me as I stood there trying to shoot photos of them. That’s when it dawned on me, evolution drives these small birds to behave the way that they do, only the fastest of them gets the food when they travel in flocks the way that they do.
I watched as two or more of them would dart out of the brush to catch insects that flew past them, and of course, only one of them would successfully catch the insect. Nature rewards the quickest among the flock as they compete for food.
It was the same with the kinglets, which I’ll get to shortly, only the quickest individuals were able to catch insects flying in their area, the slow birds went hungry, or had to work harder to find food in other ways.
It also doesn’t help that in the flocks of both species, the dominant males were also busy chasing other males away when one of the other males got too close.
Since I mentioned the kinglets, specifically, ruby-crowned kinglets this time, I spent over two hours shooting photos of them, while also observing their behavior. This is the best image of the day, technically, it was cropped only slightly.
I stood in one very small area near a willow tree as dozens of these little guys…
…and gals searched of insects. Only the males display the reddish-orange feathers on the top of their heads that give this species their name. Also, the males only show those feathers…
…when there’s another male nearby. I saw several of the males give the full display of the red feathers, but the only photos I got of them were as they either were hiding them again, or just starting to display the feathers as they prepared to chase the other male away.
Okay, you’re probably tired of these already, but here’s two more photos that show how quick this species can move. I was using the 5D Mk IV set to low-speed continuous shooting, which is five frames per second. I caught one of the kinglets…
… with the next frame being this, shot as quickly as the 5D recycles to shoot at 5 frames per second.
In the split second between frames, the kinglet had almost completed its turn. I had plenty of images of empty branches from my time spent trying to photograph them as even more proof of how quickly they move, along with olive-green blurs in other photos as they flew away between shots fired in a series.
Now, back to my observations of these two large flocks of small birds. As I said, the fastest of the flock were the individuals most likely to catch flying insects, so you’d think that traveling in smaller flocks would be better for the survival of the species. However, that many eyes looking for predators is an advantage to the flock, meaning more of the flock survives. Also, I can’t prove it, but it appeared to me that the frenetic behavior of as many of these small birds as were in the flocks actually caused some insects to take flight, making the insects easier for members of the flock to detect. I think that at least twice, when a dominant male chased another male, another member of the flock flew up to catch an insect that had been spooked from hiding by the males chasing each other.
It makes sense, now that I’ve thought about it, that many birds hoping up and down branches and flitting about must scare some of the prey insects into taking flight, revealing themselves to the birds that may have otherwise not seen the insects where they were hiding. It’s as if the birds are beating the brush to drive their prey out into the open.
I lucked out with the warblers and kinglets, I didn’t have to move around much because the flocks of each stayed in one small area much longer than I’ve seen before. That allowed my desire to get the best possible photo to work in conjunction with my desire to spend more time observing nature. While I wasn’t able to get the images that I wanted, I was able to spend more time observing the members of the flock that were out of camera range, so I consider the day a success. I’m hoping that the way things went that day sets the tone for how I do things from now on. Slow down, work to get the best image possible that day, and learn from watching as I’m doing so.
Now then, my last series of images, maybe.
Good light, with just enough shadows under each layer of feathers to highlight the separation between the feathers, helps make this one a keeper. I wish that I had been a little closer, but because there’s nothing close to the crane directly behind it, the crane really stands out from the water behind it.
I got even lower for this next one, but that may have been a mistake.
I included this one because both cranes were calling at the same time, and to show how large they are when compared to the Canada geese in the foreground. However, because I got down even lower than in the first image, now the houses more than a mile away across Muskegon Lake become a distraction in the image.
This last in the series is to show how the cranes use their long beaks to probe for food.
I have decided to add a few more photos to this post after all. Here’s a hermit thrush eating sumac drupes…
…so I can add this species to the list of species that I’ve seen eating them…
…and I added these to pass on a tip that I’ve learned, mostly on my own.
One thing that I’ve heard over and over again is to protect the highlights when shooting photos. In most cases, and in other genres of photography, that’s good advice. But in wildlife photography, when the subject is against an extremely bright background, forget the highlights, get the subject exposed correctly. As soon as I saw the thrush where it was, I went up plus 2 on my exposure compensation because of how bright the cloudy sky with the sun almost directly behind the thrush was. Yes, the highlights, the sky, are blown out, even after trying to recover them in Lightroom the best that I could, but otherwise, the hermit thrush would have been a black silhouette and you wouldn’t have been able to tell what species of bird it was, or make out the fact that it was eating the sumac drupes.
These next two images are of species common to me and appear often in my blog, but a good image is a good image.
I know that this next bird is a female, because I saw her working on her nest. She’s built her nest under the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for at least three years that I can recall, so she’s at least that old, and it was like seeing an old friend again. She’s appeared in my blog more than a few times over those three years.
When I shot these next three photos, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use them or not, but I’ve decided that the subject may be interesting to some people. In other parts of the country, and the world for that matter, you see photos of how they clear the roads of massive amounts of snow. In some areas along Lake Michigan, blowing sand becomes more of a problem than snow.
The sand is then trucked back to the beach…
…where a bulldozer spreads the sand out to rebuild the beach.
It’s a sure sign of spring when they clear the roads and parking lots at several of Michigan’s state parks of the sand that has covered them over the winter.
Since I’ve already gone overboard in this post, I may as well add this experimental photo as well.
In the past, I would have tried to get all three of the flower clusters in focus, and I would have failed. This time, I tried to use the limited depth of field at close range to add some depth to the image so that it looks more three-dimensional. You can see the progression of the flower clusters, even though the two clusters in the background are out of focus, while the most advanced of the clusters is in focus. And, because of the angle that I shot this image at, along with the shape of the prominent cluster, I do think that the experiment worked, that this image doesn’t look flat. My composition could have been better, but in my defense, I was chasing the flowers around while there were wind gusts above 30 MPH that day.
I’ve never tried to use depth of field and what’s in focus versus what’s out of focus to create depth in an image before, that’s something that I’ve learned from watching videos where the experts critique photos sent in by viewers. I suppose that selective focus is the reason that I like the photo of the male kinglet perched on the chain link fence that’s above this, the out of focus fencing closer and farther away from the kinglet help to give that photo some depth.
I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I also hope that I’ve gotten my settings correct to allow comments to my blog once again.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Fewer and farther between
First of all, I hope that I have gotten the settings correct in WordPress for this post, I thought that I had for my last one, but it didn’t allow any comments, sorry.
While I was taking a break from blogging, it occurred to me that my blog had become very boring, and hardly worth the effort it took to continue putting out new posts that were essentially the same posts over and over again. I’ve been going to the same few places, shooting the same few species of birds for the past couple of years. The only thing that changed from post to post were my thoughts on photography and photo gear, which most people find boring.
One of the reasons that I kept returning to the same locations every week is that those locations give me the best chance of shooting enough photos to fill a blog post during my two days off from work each week, rather taking a chance that I would miss doing a post now and then as I learned a new location.
In addition, trying to shoot enough photos to fill a post quickly often put me at odds with one of my goals, getting the best possible photos that I can. That became very clear to me a few times during my break from posting, as I would be sitting somewhere in hopes of getting a great photo instead of rushing from place to place, shooting a wider variety of fair photos as I typically do. That became very clear to me a few weeks ago as I sat waiting for a pileated woodpecker to move to a place where I had a clear view of him in excellent light, instead of settling for a shot through the branches that were between myself and the woodpecker. If he had moved just a few feet higher on the tree he was investigating, I would have gotten my very best image of that species to this date. But as I sat there, the thought that I was wasting such good light by waiting kept repeating itself in my head the entire time, so I gave up waiting and moved on, which was probably a mistake.
Also, trying to shoot enough photos in one or two days to fill a post has been taking the enjoyment out of simply sitting and observing the nature around me. Since I’ve been on my blogging break, I have spent more time sitting and observing instead of rushing around trying to shoot more photos. This photo came about because I was just sitting and waiting.
If you’re feeling a bit down and need something to cheer you up, there’s few things better than watching bufflehead in action. They look to be completely out of control as they land as they use their wings and feet to steer, and once on the water, the show often continues.
I wasn’t able to photograph any of the antics of the males’ courtship displays, but I have in the past, and that is quite humorous also, but video would be a much better way to show that than still photos. However, still photos work fine when capturing a bufflehead on take off.
This seems like the place to switch over to some of the boring photography talk, as just as when I upgraded from the Canon 60D to the 7D Mk II and found that what I learned using the 7D improved the images that I shot with the 60D, what I learn using the 5D Mk IV is helping the images that I shoot with the 7D.
I was using the 7D because I thought that the bufflehead would take flight, and the 7D is still better for action photos than the slower 5D Mk IV. But, they didn’t take off, instead, I got my best photo to date that shows the beautiful colors of the male bufflehead’s head. However, I can still do better if I can get closer, use the 5D Mk IV, and get the light exactly right.
When it comes to photography, I’m still watching an occasional review of the newest gear coming on the market, not that I’m interesting in upgrading any of my gear now, but to stay current and to have an idea of what’s coming in the next few years.
I have taken to watching videos where the “experts” critique the images sent in by viewers, and I’m finding them helpful in my being able to improve my images. I put experts in quotes because not every one who does such videos is a true expert on the types of photography that I do most. A great example of that is Jared Polin (Fro Knows Photos) because he doesn’t shoot wildlife or landscapes. He does occasionally review those types of images, and he states up front that they are outside of his expertise, but I still find his comments and suggestions helpful. A good image from any genre is a good image, and learning how to better tweak my images in Lightroom is helpful, no matter which genre of image is being tweaked.
I find it very helpful to see so many more images shot by others than I would otherwise see, unless I was able to join and attend the meetings of the local camera club to get feedback on my images. I’m thinking that later this year, after I have my leftover medical bill paid, of taking a one on one session offered by the local camera store that includes feedback on my images along with pointers on how to improve my images.
I know that it’s mostly that I need to put more time into each image, although not always. I spent close to an hour to get these next two images, using my macro lens, an extension tube, and my homemade macro lighting rig.
It didn’t take me as long to get this…
…but it did take me a few tries before I got that one. I wish that I could have found a better background, but I did the best that I could.
So, it’s been another week since I worked on this post as I’ve been working out how to say what I want to say in fewer words than I typically use.
Not only do I want to change the way that I blog, I want to change the way that I approach shooting photos for my blog, and for that matter, the subject matter to some degree.
My posts were getting to be all the same, and I’m tired of posting crappy photos just so that I can say that I saw a certain species of bird while I was out.
Even if I get a technically good photo of a species…
…doesn’t mean that it was a good image of that species…
…when one shot under poor conditions showed the bird’s markings better.
Getting better images is going to require more time along with shooting more photos to sort through until I finally get the images that I desire.
I also want to take the time to photograph different aspects of nature photography, such as this image.
I suppose that you could add these to that list as well.
What it all boils down to is that I’d like to get more creative by shooting differently than I do now.
If only I had been a few seconds quicker as the swans swam under the bridge I was standing on.
I could continue to shoot and post images like this…
…but I’d rather shoot images like this if I could get into a better position so that I wasn’t shooting through a small opening in the brush between myself and the grackle.
I’d like to have the time to document changes as well, even if these aren’t nature photos.
You can see the progress that’s been made in tearing down this old coal-fired power plant in the past year.
But never fear, when I get good images of a bird, even a species that’s common and that I’ve posted many photos of, when I catch one singing its spring song…
…I’ll still post a photo…
…because hearing the birds sing brings me a great deal of joy.
And, when I get better images of a species…
…I’ll post them as well.
Two last thoughts before I end this.
My work schedule will be changing in the next month, I have no idea what my schedule will be yet. I won’t know my hours or day(s) off until it’s my turn to bid on the runs left after the higher seniority drivers have bid on the runs the company that I work for has.
My other thought is that I’d like to add a fish eye lens to my kit someday. The earlier photos of the white pine at night weren’t quite what I wanted because my 16-35 mm lens isn’t wide enough to get the effect that I was going for in the way that the branches spread out from the trunk of the tree. I think that the addition of a true fish eye lens will work well for nature photography for close-ups of flowers and other similar subjects.
The lens I have in mind will focus down to 6 inches from the sensor plane. meaning that the front element of the lens can almost touch the subject and still get it in focus. A fish eye lens does distort reality, but it would also allow me to get more creative in my shots of flowers, fungi, and lichens, due to the extreme depth of field that comes with such a lens. I tested the lens that I have in mind out in the local camera store, and I can control how much it distorts reality by using Lightroom to control the distortion. Who knows, ultra-wide nature images may end up being the niche that I’m looking for.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I’m back, but for how long
I had started this post with the title “I’m back and fully recharged” thinking that is how I would feel by now, but that isn’t the case. I still like the idea of sharing some of the photos that I shoot if they’re particularly good, or show some form of animal behavior that I and other may find interesting. However, I’m not sure at this time if I want to reengage in the grind of blogging on any sort of schedule. There are many reasons for this, which I’ll explain in detail in a future post, but for now, this will have to do.
Okay, I’ve on my blogging break, but I thought that as I went along, I’d jot down a few notes along the way.
My first note is that on January 26th, I noticed that it’s staying light a little later in the afternoon, which cheered me up a little.
However, that was just before the first of what maybe many brutal cold snaps hit the area. As I type this, the temperature is -9 F (-23 C) and we may finally get back above zero tomorrow. It was a miserable week for work, with almost constant lake effect snow creating very slippery roads and close to zero visibility at times. In addition, the trucks and trailers often didn’t handle the cold very well either, I’m really glad that this week is over with.
As bad as it’s been in Michigan, the surrounding states have been even colder, because they don’t have the wind coming over Lake Michigan to warm the air at all, but at least they’ve seen some sunshine in the cold, and haven’t seen the snow that we’ve gotten. I’m not sure if ten to fifteen degrees warmer is worth all the snow that’s fallen here in Michigan this past week though.
We’re forecast to get a shot of warm air above freezing next week, but that will probably mean fog from the melting of the snowpack on the ground, and limited visibility again, I hope not.
Needless to say, I’m not going out in this weather to shoot any photos, which is a shame in a way, as there are some beautiful scenes to be photographed because of the snow and cold. But, I’ve had enough of dealing with driving in the snow and working in the cold, I’m staying home catching up inside where it’s warm.
Well, another week has come and gone. Yes, it has warmed up, and that brought the fog that I was worried about, creating difficult driving conditions for work this past week. We also had an ice storm, with almost an inch of freezing rain falling in the area where I live. Once again, it created some beautiful scenes that would have been worth shooting photos of, but I was working during that time frame. I would have loved to have been able to go around at night, capturing how pretty the trees and other things covered in ice were if I hadn’t been working at the time.
Before I forget, during the cold snap last week, a pipe froze in my apartment again, sending water into my kitchen and dining area again. I was lucky this time, I was home when the water started leaking, so I was able to call maintenance before any real damage, other than to the drywall, was done. It’s one of my days off from work as I type this, and I’m waiting for the drywall repair people to show up to repair the damage. I don’t have to be here while they work, but I may as well stay home, as there’s a miserably cold rain falling outside today.
I do have some good news, my request for the second week of October off for my vacation has been approved, so I hope to return to Michigan’s upper peninsula to shoot the scenery there while the leaves on the trees are in full fall color at the time. I’m really looking forward to that!
Another week, and another foot of snow, we’re over 5 feet of snow for this winter now. This coming week looks cold, but calm for a change, with only a little snow, that will be a welcome change. Truth is, I try to forget what the weather has been like since I began my break from blogging, as driving through heavy snow every night for work has been taking a lot out of me. Along with that, we went another 7 days straight with 0% of possible sunshine, yuck!
Despite a less than ideal weather forecast yesterday, I did venture out to Muskegon just so that I wouldn’t get too rusty when it comes to taking photos. It did warm up yesterday, but the rain and fog that had been predicted held off, and I even saw a few minutes of sunshine. It was a welcome sight to say the least, but my eyes reacted to sunshine like a mole’s eyes would, and I had trouble seeing well in the brightness of the day. Even though it was hard to get around due to deep snow, I did shoot a few photos, nothing special, but it was good to get out with a camera again.
I’m going to put two of the photos that I shot in this post, not that they are very good, but for other reasons. I like this one of mallards taking off because it shows how the male closest to the camera is pushing off from the water as he explodes into flight.
Look at that leg extension, I had no idea that their legs were so long.
I’m also including this one, just because it reminds me of what an almost sunny day looks like, and because it reminds me of everything that I need to do in order to shoot even a so-so landscape photo.
I know that there’s plenty of wintry weather left to deal with, but it was nice to get outside on a warmer day when my fingers didn’t stiffen from the cold as soon as they were exposed to the air outside. And, it was really nice to see a little sunshine, even if it did last for only a few minutes.
Today, we’re back to clouds, occasional light snow, and a biting wind, so I’m back to hibernation again.
Well, another week has gone by, and we’re getting closer to spring. You wouldn’t know that if you looked outside here where I live though, but at least we didn’t receive much snow and we even had a bit of sunshine this past week.
Both to get ready for spring, and to use up a gift card from B&H Photo before it expired, I purchased several small items that will make my life easier as far as carrying and using my camera gear.
One of the items was a quick release strap system so that I can quickly and easily remove the strap from the camera during times when the strap isn’t needed. This will come in handy user a couple of different circumstances. One is when I’m birding from inside my car, such as most of the time at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I keep two camera/lens set-ups on the passenger seat as I look for birds, one set to shoot portraits, the other to shoot action scenes. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve grabbed one of the cameras, only to have the camera strap get tangled around the shift lever, the parking park handle, or something else in the vehicle, causing me to miss shots. Now, I can remove the strap while I’m moving, and when I exit my car, I can quickly re-attach the strap for carrying the camera.
Another circumstance when the removable strap will come in handy is when shooting landscapes on windy days when I have the camera mounted on my tripod. Having the strap blowing around in the wind has caused camera shake in the past, so I usually end up trying the strap to the tripod once I’m getting ready to take a shot. Now, as I’m moving around looking for the best place to set-up the tripod, I’ll have the strap attached to hold the camera as I set the tripod up, and once the camera is mounted on the tripod, rather than tie the strap up, I can simply remove it.
In my last real post, I explained that I had added a quick release system to the macro lighting rig I came up with, and that it works quite well. Similarly, I’ve purchased an Acra-Swiss compatible clamp and attached it to a Manfrotto quick release plate so that I can use my long lenses which have the Acra-Swiss plates attached for use on my gimbal head equipped tripod on my Manfrotto tripod that I use for landscapes. I could explain why different tripod heads work better for some subjects than others, and how the adaptor that I came up with works, but that would be boring.
What all of this week’s update is all about is that I’m content with the gear that I have now, and that I’m refining how it all works together.
Well, another week, another miserable week as far as work is concerned. It included snow almost every night, the worst night was that of the big blizzard of 2019, the worst conditions that I’ve run into as a truck driver. I’m not even going to describe how bad conditions were, because I just want to forget that night and move on.
The forecast for this coming week isn’t much better, with near record cold predicted, but hopefully it will begin to warm up after that.
The good news is that last Friday was the nicest day of the year so far, and I took advantage of that to get out and enjoy it while shooting a few photos. The day started out frosty, but few of the images that I shot during that timeframe are worth posting, so this is the only one that I’m including.
Later, I noticed a few large snow drifts, and shot photos from various angles and distances, and I settled on this one as the best of the lot.
I was astonished by how much slight changes in the composition of the scenes dramatically changed how good the images appeared to me, changing by only a few feet made far more difference that I thought that it would. That’s something that I’m constantly reminded of when shooting landscapes, a genre of photography that needs more work on my part. But at least I did try different angles and compositions for a change, to get at least one good image.
I saw only one or two eagles at most, I guess that the time has come for the flock that had spent the winter there at the Muskegon County wastewater facility to break up, and move to their respective home territories, despite the fact that there’s still plenty of winter left. The breeding adults I can understand moving already, as it’s the time of the year for them to rebuild their nests, and begin laying eggs soon. I’m not sure why all the juveniles also left, maybe it’s so that they have time to stake out territories of their own.
I did find a few snow buntings, and once again, I tried to get an excellent image of one, but I failed.
It’s frustrating in some ways, funny in others, how much time and effort that I put into getting exactly the shot that I want when it comes to certain species of birds, or other subjects, but those images never come to fruition.
On the other hand I guess that I’m lucky when it comes to other subjects.
That was shot with the 400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II body, because I thought that the owl was about to take off. I spent well over an hour with that owl, working my way a little closer from time to time, and I did get this image.
And of course, I shot plenty of other images of the snowy as well, here’s two more.
By the way, these were shot with the 100-400 mm lens, 2X tele-converter, on the 5D Mk IV and cropped only a little.
I still haven’t gotten “perfect” images of a snowy yet, but I do pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. It helps that this one wasn’t squinting in the sunshine all the time like most of them do.
Well, it’s now the month of March, and not much has changed, it’s still cold and snowy here. In fact, we came close to setting records for how cold it was this past week. However, I can’t stand being cooped up inside, so I ventured out on a horrible day for photography last week.
I think that a few birds are beginning to return north for the summer despite the cold, and they were a sight for sore eyes even if the light was horrible.
I like these next two despite the poor light, I wish that I could get the ducks to space themselves out like in these when the light is better.
Also, from the bad photos of interesting bird behavior files, I have these.
When I saw the bluebird open its mouth, I kept my finger down on the shutter release.
I thought that it may be going to sing, but I was wrong.
Many species of predator birds swallow their prey whole, then hack up the indigestible parts of the prey in the form of pellets, I didn’t know that songbirds did the same thing when it comes to the seeds inside berries that the swallow whole.
But this series of photos show that they do, and the bluebird acted as if it wanted me to know that by depositing the seeds on the branch in front of it.
It’s kind of gross in reality.
But there you have it.
It was one of those days when all color seemed to be sucked out of everything, and I tried to capture that in this image.
Yes, it’s still so cold around here that ice fishermen are still out on a lake as large as Muskegon Lake is. I wish that I had found a composition that showed the bright red of the fishing shanty better, but that was the best of all the attempts I tried.
A quick stop at the Muskegon State Park beach produced this image.
From there, I went to Duck Lake State Park to shoot these.
That’s a “dormant” ice volcano, when the wind is strong enough, it blows the lake water up under the ice, which rises to accommodate the added water. Eventually, the weight of the ice is enough, it falls again, pushing the water up through these ice volcanos. One of the days I’ll have to shoot a video of it as it happens, it was too calm on this day.
These next two are simply the best that I could come up with as far a landscape images this day. Nothing special, just practice.
I’m hoping that it gets above freezing tomorrow, with some sun, which would be very welcome!
Woo hoo! It looks as if spring is finally arriving here in west Michigan! It may not look that way though from the photos that I shot last week, but it was the nicest day of the year so far up until then, and we’ve had several even nicer days since. I shot more snow and ice photos than birds…
…and even this “bird” photo was more about the sun on the ice than the gulls.
Scenes like this next one won’t be seen around here until next winter…
…I hope, but that applies to most of the photos from last week.
I went from Muskegon State Park north to Duck Lake State Park to shoot the rest of the images from the day.
This ice formation looked to me like a giant sea turtle trying to pull itself out of the icy water of Lake Michigan.
So, as I looked around for other interesting ice formations, I shot the “turtle” from many angles.
I also tried a few black and white images.
But mostly, I shot the ice turtle on such a great day.
With the bright sunshine, no wind to speak of, and warmer temperatures, it was the first day this year when it felt pleasant to be outside.
By the way, we’ve had almost as many minutes of sunshine the past week as we had all winter long going back to the first of November of last year, it was most welcome, believe me.
It won’t be as nice today when I go out to shoot photos, as there’ll be intermittent rain showers and possibly a thunderstorm or two moving through the area. In fact, it will be a wet, sloppy mess today, but the temperature will be warm enough to go without a parka or even a jacket if it gets as warm as the forecast says it will be. Plus, many species of birds have begun to arrive as they’re anticipating spring as well, and it will be great to see and hear them again after such a long, drawn out winter as this one has been.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve added anything to this post, for the reason in the note at the start of this post. This one is too long already, so as I said earlier, I’ll explain my current feelings on blogging in my next post.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Welcome 2019, but time for a break
Well, so far January has been a little milder than an average year here in West Michigan, however, sunshine has been as rare as ever so far this winter. I’m also having difficulty in finding birds other than eagles to photograph, and I’m not entirely sure of why that’s the case. Some of the reasons are that I’m no longer shooting photos of birds that are really out of camera range, in dreadful light, or that refuse to pose for me. Also, I’ve made what for me is a huge investment in very good cameras and lenses, so I’ve been extra cautious with that gear to protect it all from the winter weather. I’m thinking of purchasing a good quality point and shoot camera that I can carry in a pocket to take with me while walking through the woods. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to afford one until next winter though, since my purchases of the Canon 5D Mk IV and the 24-70 mm lens have left my bank account drained.
I am, however, shooting plenty of images of eagles in action, which I’ll get to in a while here. First, I’m going to start with an image that I shot at sunset on one of the few sunny days that I can remember so far in the new year.
I started with that one because it fits the header of my blog better than this version of the scene…
…which I much prefer over the first version.
By the way, besides purchasing the full frame 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that were upgrades over the crop sensor versions I used to use, I’ve also purchased a new backpack to hold all of my full frame gear, along with another holster bag that’s large enough to accept any of my camera bodies with the battery grips and tripod quick release plates attached to the cameras.
One of my 60D bodies was slightly damaged while I had it in the old backpack, and I didn’t want the same to happen to any of my newer gear. I searched long and hard to find the right bags for me this time, and I found ones that I really love. The backpack holds any of my cameras comfortably and safely, along with my lenses and other accessories needed. It’s also very convenient to access whatever body and lens combination that I choose to carry in the top of the backpack, it stands up on its own, and I only have to partially unzip the bag to get to the second set-up. If I need an item stored lower in the bag, all I have to do is lay the bag on its back and unzip the rest of it. It also has dividers that have padding on both sides of a rigid center so the backpack is much more resistant to being crushed and my gear damaged than the one that I use for my crop sensor gear.
The holster bag is large enough to comfortably and easily hold a second body with an attached lens, and a second lens if needed, or my flash unit and other accessories for the flash if I’m planning on shooting macro images. It is also stronger than the holster bag that I had been using, along with being large enough to hold the camera bodies that I use now with all the accessories attached to the bodies.
Toward the end of last summer, or possibly early fall, I showed a photo of a rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit in place while shooting macros.
At the time that I shot that photo, I had to remove the tripod quick release plate from the camera body that I wanted to use the lighting rig on, then screw the rig to the camera body. That was a pain to do each time, so I purchased a quick release clamp that’s the same as on the head of my tripod, so now, I can quickly clamp the lighting rig to any of my camera bodies I choose to use, then just as quickly, remove the lighting rig from the body to shoot normally.
That has worked so well, that I’m planning on coming up with a similar set-up that will allow me to use any of my camera and lens combinations on both of the tripod heads that I use.
But, rather than bore every one with what I have in mind, I have an announcement to make.
I think that it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a while again. Over the years, I have taken several such breaks for several months each time, and they do me a world of good as far as content and motivation for continuing to blog.
There are several reasons why I’m choosing now as the time for a break, the weather and the lack of subjects to photograph, along with my computer.
First the weather and lack of subjects to photograph. It’s turned extremely cold here in Michigan, so cold that schools have been closing due to the wind chill on some days. I love the camera gear that I have now, and don’t want to risk damaging any of it by exposing it to cold that is well below Canon’s recommendations as far as temperature. Then, there’s the almost constant lake effect cloud cover that comes with the cold. We have one grey overcast dreary day after another when the weather pattern sets up as it is now, along with copious amounts of lake effect snow that makes driving a difficult task. I have to put up with it for work, I’d rather not have to do the same on my days off from work. And, I’d rather not go back to shooting poor photos just to fill my blog posts with after I’ve worked so hard to improve my skills to the level where I’m at now.
I’m also having trouble finding birds other than eagles to photograph, which I said earlier. I should include gulls and crows along with eagles, but frankly, I have enough photos of gulls already, the same with crows. For over a month, I’ve had trouble finding even the most common of smaller birds such as chickadees and cardinals to try to photograph, and I’m not sure why that is. I’ve gone to my favorite spots for smaller birds and not seen so much as a feather during this time, and I’ve seldom even heard a bird in the distance.
Then, there’s the situation with my computer, which is an iMac. About two weeks ago I decided that it was time for me to update the operating system to “Mohave”, Apple’s latest and supposedly greatest. When the upgrade was finally installed, it was like starting with a brand new computer, most of my settings had reverted back to the default settings. The upgrade also caused Keychain, the Apple app that stores passwords and the like so that you don’t have to remember them every time you sign on to a web site to have been emptied, so I had to go to every web site that requires a password and sign in as from scratch, then store those passwords in Keychain once again.
Fortunately, I save all my passwords in a text file, so that task wasn’t too bad, but then another problem popped up. I found that my Email was going to all different folders than the way that I had the system set-up to handle incoming Emails, they were going everywhere with no rhyme or reason to which folder they were going to. It took me a while to track them all down, and send them to the correct folders. I guess that’s what I get for trying to be organized.
Then, once I had all the Emails in their proper folders, another problem popped up, this one has to do with WordPress and my ability to comment on or like posts from other bloggers. This seems to be based on the themes that other bloggers use, there are some WordPress sites that I have not been able to successfully log into at all since I did the OS update. For other WordPress sites, I have to log in both to leave a comment and then log in again to like the post, and even then, the system doesn’t always work as it should. I could go on, but I’ll sum it up by saying that it’s been a mess.
Oh, and one other thing, since I did the upgrade, neither Lightroom or Photomatix work quite as they should, and they will not work together at all the way that they used to. This means that processing the few photos that I’ve shot lately has taken much more time than it should have. This is really problematic for me, as I’m using the standalone version of Lightroom which is no longer supported by Adobe. I doubt if Adobe will upgrade the version of Lightroom that I use, they want to push every one into their subscription version that requires a monthly fee to use.
I was planning on switching over the subscription version eventually, probably later this year, but it looks as if I’m going to be forced to do so ahead of my schedule. That version is affordable, but it was an expense that I was trying to put off until I had the entire hospital bill from two years ago paid off before I made the switch. I only have a few more payments to make, so the end is in sight as far as that bill is concerned, and by taking a break from blogging for a while, it will be helpful to my wallet as well.
Anyway, time for a few photos, these were all shot last week, when there was a rare sunny (for the most part) day.
This series shows an adult eagle chasing a juvenile…
…and the gyrations that the eagles can make in flight.
These next two show how cold and windy it’s been lately, cold enough for the ice to get quite thick, and windy enough that waves were able to break the ice up and throw it on shore.
These two show a small part of the flock of gulls that soar over the landfill looking for scraps of food to eat.
At least there was some sun before the lake effect clouds rolled back in. However, not even the 5D Mk IV captured the colors in the sky the way that I hoped that it would.
Going back to the day when I shot the sunset seen earlier, I shot these photos.
I think that I made the most out of what little sun we’ve had around here.
Since this will be my last post for a while, I may as well throw in a few more photos.
Okay, I think that’s enough for now, in fact, enough until I return from this short break in my blogging. Not only has the weather taken a turn for the worse, with bitterly cold temperatures forecast for over a week, but this will also give me time to catch up with other things in my life that I’ve been putting off.
I should be back to blogging on a regular basis again towards the end of March, at least I hope that it warms up by then. In the meantime, I’ll do a few more posts of individual species of birds in the My Photo Life List project, but I won’t publicize them, and they will be posted with no comments or likes allowed. Those posts have never been very popular anyway, so I doubt if any one will miss them or the ability to comment on them.
Oh, one more thing, I doubt if I will be commenting on other people’s post for the time being either, at least until there are software updates that allow me to do so without the hassles that I’m facing when I try now. Sorry!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
In a comment discussion with Allen, who writes the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, he made a remark that really stuck with me, he doesn’t know why, but lichens seem happy in the winter. And since there’s a lack of other subjects to photograph in Michigan this time of year, I’ve been spending time shooting some of the lichens that I’ve found.
I can’t identify any of these, sorry to say, but I can appreciate seeing their beautiful colors when the rest of the area is decidedly lacking in color.
For those that don’t know what lichen are, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia…A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a mutualistic relationship. The combined lichen has properties different from those of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose), flat leaf-like structures (foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint (crustose), a powder-like appearance (leprose), or other growth forms. Or to put it another way…”Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture” —Trevor Goward.
The curious somewhat scientific side of me finds lichens interesting to say the least, but the more often that I get really close to them…
…I often wonder if I’m seeing two versions of the same lichen…
…or many different species growing together…
…and I wonder just how many species there are…
….and how to identify them without a science lab with me…
…or watching the same specimen over time to be able to tell what is going on…
…but I also enjoy seeing the other things that grow with lichens, such as mosses…
…and the closer that I look…
…the more species I find. Looking at this white spot on the bark of a maple tree, what I thought was discolored bark was actually very tiny lichens which gave the tree bark a brown appearance from a distance…
….yet is more of a burnt orange color up close…
…and then I wondered if these are two species competing for the same spot…
…or just what is going on in that last photo.
A pleasant thing about getting set-up for the macro photos so far is that I found other subjects than just lichens to shoot…
But still I wonder, just what it is that I’m seeing in photos such as this one?
The same applies to this one as well, just what is going on here?
I assume that the base “structure” is a fungus, but what about the transition areas that show up as green?
Is this an algae growing on top of an existing fungus?
Even as close as I could get with my macro lens, I can’t tell what it is that I’m seeing.
If it is an algae growing on a fungus, is this the way that lichens first develop?
To make things even harder, is this a mold growing on a lichen?
Or another species of lichen competing for space, or has the photosynthesis stopped in the white parts of the fungi, causing it to lose its green color?
No matter what I was seeing as far as the different forms of life, it was nice to see a color other than brown this time of year as I shot these macro photos.
Still more things to ponder, has something such as a mouse or squirrel eaten the ends of this lichen, or is this something else, possibly related to reproduction?
I’m more familiar with this type of lichen fruiting body, called apothecia.
I got distracted by the brighter colors in this shot…
…I was going for a closer photo of the apothecia…
…and tying to get as close to them as my macro lens is capable of…
…I cropped this one a little to get as close as I could.
One last look at a lichen.
So that this entire post isn’t only lichen, I have a few landscape images to use up.
These next two show how snow and sand blow around equally this time of year.
We get some snow, the wind blows sand over the snow, then it snows again, and the process repeats for most of the winter.
Crepuscular rays are a sight often seen in association with our lake effect clouds during the winter, so I’m trying to learn how to get them to stand out more in my photos.
I suppose that I should throw in one photo of a bird as well. After all the gloomy skies, I thought that this one would be a good choice.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Eagles in action
It’s winter here in West Michigan, and it’s been a blah type of winter so far. It’s been cold and cloudy most of the time, but we haven’t had very much snow so far this year. It’s been cold enough that many of the smaller bodies of water have frozen over, so most of the waterfowl have flown south for the winter. It’s been getting tougher to find subjects to photograph with every passing week, mostly due to the weather.
One constant for over a month has been the large number of bald eagles hanging out in the vicinity of the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the adjacent county landfill. At one point, I counted 13 bald eagles in view at one time, although they were scattered across the frozen surface of the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. Bald eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat or where they find their food, they’ll scavenge the landfill just as the gulls and crows do. They also are able to pick off an occasional gull or one of the few remaining waterfowl, along with small mammals and other sources of food.
The photos in this post will all be of eagles that I’ve shot the past two months, and many of them aren’t very good, but they do show eagle behavior that many people never get the chance to see. I’m going to start with one of the better images that I’ve shot lately.
Of course it was a juvenile eagle, although this image of an adult is pretty good also.
And, it’s been relatively easy to get two eagles in the frame at once, as in this adult gliding past a juvenile perched on the ice.
When the eagles first showed up, I was shooting them no matter how far away from me they were, and no matter how poor the weather was at the time. I’m going to include this series because it shows a juvenile eagle challenging an adult, even though they were too far away from me, and there was a huge flock of Canada geese between myself and the eagles. But, this shows both the eagles in action, and the large number of geese that remain around here.
I should have known that a week or two later I’d be able to shoot two other eagles going at it a little closer to me.
I can’t say for sure that it was intentional, but it looked as if the eagle that had been perched filled its talons with ice and snow…
…and dropped it on the other eagle’s tail.
These “battles” seem to be all posturing, with no actual physical contact between the two combatants.
By the way, if it matters, all of these were shot with the Canon 7D Mk II and the 400 mm f/5.6 prime lens because of the 7D’s higher frame rate so that I could capture the action takin place.
Now then, on the other end of the behavior scale, I caught the two resident eagles doing a little early season courting. I can tell that they are the resident pair, because the male’s head looks flat and small compared to most eagles, I’ve seen them often enough to recognize the male. And, I can tell that they were courting by their behavior. That includes “billing”, that is they touch their bills together, and them calling to one another as you’ll see here.
I was hoping that when first one of them flew off…
…followed closely by the second one…
…that I’d be able to witness and photograph them mating which is done while they are airborne with their talons locked together in a downward spiral, but that wasn’t to be the case. By the way, eagles mate for life, so this pair was renewing their vows for the upcoming year.
Again if it matters, that last series was shot with the 5D Mk IV, the 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter because of how dreary it was that day, and because the eagle’s courting action was much slower than when they are fighting or flying. I also used that same set-up for these.
I switched to the 2X tele-converter for added reach for these two, which shows an adult bald eagle with its kill, an unlucky fox squirrel that wasn’t paying enough attention to the dangers lurking above it.
In deciding which photos to include, along with how many of each action sequence, I also asked myself if I should wait until I shoot better ones in better light and when the eagles are closer to me. I’m reasonably certain that I’ll get better images in the future, but I also have to remember that many people who look at my blog have never seen a bald eagle in person, let alone the behaviors that I managed to capture, even if the photos are poor.
I suppose that it’s one of the good things about blogging, if or when I do get better images of the same types of behavior, I can simply do another post using them. I only hope that I don’t bore the readers of my blog too much as I practice for the big day when I get the chance to shoot the images that I’d really like to post.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
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!
A few hours of sunshine
I’m going to start this post with three slightly different versions of the same scene for two reasons. The first is that I amazed myself by seeing a hint of what was to come, and I waited for it to happen as the sun rose higher in the sky.
That image is made from three bracketed images blended together using Photomatix to create the HDR image above. That’s the second reason for posting three versions of the same scene, to show how much dynamic range the 5D Mk IV has, and how different software produces different results.
Here’s another version, which is a single image that I used only Lightroom to produce.
Finally, another HDR image that I made using the HDR function in Lightroom.
I like all three versions for different reasons, but I think that the last version is the one that comes closest to matching what I saw. The biggest take-away from these three versions is that I can get by with a single image from the 5D if I have to, and also that I need to only bracket my exposure one stop with the 5D rather than the two stops that I used to do when using one of my crop sensor cameras.
It’s probably a lot more important that I saw the first hints of the sun hitting the goldenrod seed heads as I was turning around at the end of a dead-end road and waited until the sun rose high enough to cast its golden light on just a portion of the foreground. I did wait a little longer for the sun to light up more of the foreground, but by then, it had lost the golden glow that you can see in these images.
Before I get to any more photos, I’m going to whine about the weather. We just had our tenth coldest November (temp: -5.4 degrees) ever, and with gloomy skies most of the time. We had just 8.9% of possible sunshine, and 21 of 30 totally overcast days. In addition, snowfall was 7.6″ above average.
To go with the foul weather this past month, Christmas is approaching, and since I work for a company contracted to carry the mail for the US postal service, I’ve been working a few more hours per week because of the heavier volume of mail this time of year. The Christmas rush hasn’t affected my days off, at least not yet, but my days at work have become longer, mostly because the postal service can’t meet its own schedule, and the weather hasn’t helped either.
I have a good number of images that I shot on that one sunny morning before the clouds rolled back in shortly after noon that day, but they are mostly of northern shovelers.
With such good light and the pretty background, I couldn’t resist just shooting away…
…although I couldn’t get a male that was showing his finest plumage in the same light.
When I did find the male that I wanted to shoot, the light wasn’t quite as good, and the background isn’t as good, because the other shovelers are a distraction.
But, that image does show the beautiful markings of the shoveler’s feathers, especially on his flank, along with how his feathers grow on his back, and the hints of color here and there as well.
I also have two images of a small group of shovelers whose nap I interrupted.
All those yellow eyes staring at me was kind of creepy.
I did get a few poor photos of common redpolls while the sun was out…
I have other photos left from that sunny day, but this past Friday, I had the chance to watch and photograph over a dozen bald eagles in action, even though weather conditions were poor, and much of the action was really out of the range of my camera gear.
Not only was it cloudy that day, with a few sprinkles of rain now and then, it was a bit foggy as well, so you’ll have to forgive the poor quality of these photos.
I don’t know what killed the shoveler, but it was stuck in the ice, and this eagle wasn’t strong enough to pull the body out of the ice.
I had been watching the eagles going after what turned out to be the dead shoveler, including a juvenile eagle trying to land on the ice, but breaking through, and giving up on the not so easy meal. Not wanting to fill the buffer of the 7D, I made a mistake right after that last photo. I knew that there were other eagles waiting for their chance to try to pluck the duck from the ice, so I let off not only the shutter release, but the button that activates the auto-focus as well. When the next eagle swooped in…
…the eagle was so low and close to the ice, while being too far away from me for the auto-focus to lock in on it…
…that it took a few frames for the camera to find the eagle.
But, I was able to capture the moment that the eagle grabbed the duck…
…and a few more frames before I did fill the buffer…
…and the auto-focus did eventually lock onto the eagle, even if a little late.
Of course I wish that the eagle had been closer, the weather better, and that the eagle had been coming towards me rather than going away from me, but at least I achieved one goal in this series, capturing an eagle in flight grabbing its next meal, even if that meal was a dead duck rather than a fish or other prey.
I should also note that this series was better suited to my last post about pushing the limits of my photography gear, as these photos would have been impossible for me to capture just a few years ago. And, I hope now that I have “broken the ice” in getting this series, that I’ll get chances for better images in the future. I did learn from this experience, and that’s what matters.
Now then, back to the photos that I shot on the sunny morning, even though most of them are of northern shovelers.
I used to have the silly notion that there was such a thing as the perfect image of a single species of bird, I have given up on that idea.
Instead, I’ve learned that there are opportunities for great images no matter what angle they’re shot from, especially if there’s any action taking place in the image.
I like the frozen water drops in that image, along with the details in the feathers on the shoveler’s back…
…while this one was showing off more of his colors.
This female swam so close to me that I had to photograph her…
…and attempt to show the comb like projections (called lamellae) along the edge of her bill. You can almost see them in this cropped in image.
Here are the rest of the photos I shot that day.
Shooting gulls in action has been great practice that I put to use to catch the eagle in action earlier in this post.