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

Photography tips

One day get away

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

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

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

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

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

The Milky Way over the Manistee River Valley

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

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

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

Unidentified purple wildflower

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

Purple coneflower

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

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

Train trestle in White Cloud, Michigan

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

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

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

The Pine River from the Peterson Bridge

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

The Pine River from the Peterson Bridge

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

The old Pine River channel from the Peterson Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of Michigan

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

Grand Traverse Bay area

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

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

Grand Traverse Bay and Old Mission Point

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

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Nodding sunflowers

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

I made it to my destination…

Sign with info

…the Grand Traverse Lighthouse…

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

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

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

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

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

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

 

Hydrangea

 

Boat load of marigolds

 

Boat load of marigolds 2

 

Marigolds

 

Day lily

 

Day lily

 

Raspberry?

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

Waiting for sunset

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

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

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

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

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

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

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

Looking south from the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula

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

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

Manistee River Valley at night

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

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

Manistee River Valley at night

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

Some of the Milky Way

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

Nighttime at Hodenpyl Pond

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Milky Way edited

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

I suppose that it doesn’t matter

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

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

Silver spotted skipper butterfly

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

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

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

Green heron watching another land in the same tree

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

Green heron

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

Color accuracy is another reason to love the 5D…

Ironweed

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

Ironweed

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

English plantain

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

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

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

Misty morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two whitetail bucks

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

Whitetail buck

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

Whitetail buck

In fact, I got two at once.

Whitetail bucks

They could tell that I was there…

Whitetail bucks

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

Whitetail bucks

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

Sandhill cranes and a great blue heron

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

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

Sandhill cranes in flight

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

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

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

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

Bald eagle in flight

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

Coyotes on the run

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

Coyotes on the run

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

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

Sandhill cranes and a green heron in flight

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

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

Grey catbird

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

Grey catbird

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

Grey catbird

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

Wasp killing a katydid

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

Wasp killing a katydid

…as I did in this instance.

Wasp killing a katydid

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

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

Purple loosestrife

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

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

Sunflowers on a cloudy day

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

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

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


The lost weekend

My two days off from work this week were a complete bust for the most part. It all began on Thursday, just before sunrise. I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, hoping to find a few uncommon birds that were migrating, that didn’t happen. The weather is what you could say was variable, broken clouds with small rain showers in the mix. It was the type of morning that if the sun had broken through the clouds at the right time and place, there could have been really special light to capture. I wanted to be ready for it if it happened, so I had the wide-angle lens on the 5D. But, there wasn’t much light to work with if I saw any wildlife worth photographing in the same time frame, so I knew that I was running the risk of having to shoot wildlife in low-light with the 7D if I saw any. Of course I saw wildlife…

Coyote pup, almost fully grown

…and there was never even a moment of magic light.

Almost magic

As I was shooting the coyote pup that you saw above, a second one came out of the vegetation even closer to me, but I couldn’t get the 7D to focus on it in the very low light at the time. I spooked three whitetail bucks, with their growing antlers covered in velvet, but I couldn’t get a photo of them before they disappeared into the brush. I spooked a few birds that I would have liked to have gotten photos of because I was watching the sky in hopes of getting a great landscape image and I wasn’t paying enough attention to possible wildlife photos.

So, my day started off badly. I should have had one of the 7D bodies set-up for landscapes even if that would have entailed bracketing exposures and using software to get the dynamic range needed. It’s not as if I hadn’t thought the situation over, I had stopped twice when I got close to where my starting point for the day would be to consider which camera and lens combinations I should have all set-up and ready to go as I sized up the situation. I chose wrong. You can see a hint of color in the clouds in the landscape photo above, if the sun and clouds had moved just a little differently, there could have been a spectacular sunrise. If I had used the 5D to shoot the coyote, there wouldn’t be the noise in the photo that there is, and the image would have been much better all the way around. That also applies to this photo, which I’m including to show the difference in size between a great blue heron and sandhill cranes.

Great blue heron and sandhill cranes

Almost every one is familiar with great blue herons, but many people have never seen a sandhill crane and may not realize how large they are. That makes it easy to get shots of them in flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I did shoot a few good photos on Thursday…

Bull thistle

I thought about shooting a series of images of the bull thistle to try out the focus stacking software that I’m thinking about purchasing, but the wind was too strong and even the thistle was swaying in the wind. I did manage this image though.

Bull thistle up close

I should always have an extension tube with me when I’m photographing flowers in case an insect shows up. The trouble is that the extension tube changes how close the lens will focus so much that I wouldn’t have been able to get the entire flower in either of the images above. But, the extension tube would have been just what I needed for this next shot.

Unidentified bee on a Bull thistle

However, insects don’t typically stick around long enough to add the extension tube when it’s needed. About the same thing happened on Friday, I paused to photograph a few evening primrose that I saw…

Evening primrose

…trying to get the best shot that I could…

Evening primrose

…when I noticed this crown vetch nearby…

Crown vetch

…and as I was photographing the flower, this robber fly landed on the flower, at least I think that it’s a robber fly.

Robber fly

If it matters, the thistle was shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, the evening primrose, crown vetch, and robber fly with the same lens on the 5D.

Speaking of the 100 mm lens, it isn’t just for macros. The weather on Friday was similar to Thursday, with widely scattered showers.

A passing shower

No, that wasn’t shot with the macro lens, that photo is to set the stage for what’s to come. I wasn’t seeing any wildlife to shoot, so I was fighting a stiff breeze to photograph flowers…

Tansy flowers

…when I saw this…

Cloudscape

…so, I shot that with the 100 mm lens.

At another point while I was photographing flowers, I looked up to see the clouds almost touching the ground in the distance…

Cloudscape

…that one was with the 16-35 mm lens to give a wider view of this, which was shot with the 100 mm lens, so these two photos are out of order as the light changed…

Cloudscape

…and, this next one was simply a test shot which I probably shouldn’t bother to put in here.

Cloudscape

I thought about shooting several series of photos to test the focus stacking software out, but the vegetation in the foreground was swaying in the wind so much that the results of any tests that I would have tried would have been useless. That’s the reason the flowers in the image that I captioned as ” A passing shower” aren’t as sharp as they should be, the flowers moved during the exposure due to the long shutter speed needed for that photo.

Anyway, I did see a few birds.

Northern flicker

 

Bobolink during its molt

 

This swan gave me the time to go to full manual with the 5D and dial in the exact exposure that I wanted…

Mute swan drying its wings

Even if I was too far away from the swan for a good photo.

Mute swan drying its wings

Here’s another image I probably shouldn’t include…

Great blue heron riding a thermal

…but, the heron was circling in a thermal updraft as a raptor would to gain altitude, and I don’t recall seeing a heron do that before, as they seldom fly at that altitude. Maybe the heron thought that it could get high enough that it could glide all the way to its destination after riding the thermal up.

I said the swan allowed me enough time to go to full manual to dial in the camera settings, I wish that wildlife always telegraphed what they were about to do. Just as I was able to get the swallows in flight that I had in my last post by learning the flight patterns of the swallows in different weather conditions and what insects they were feeding on at the time, I’ve learned when swans and other waterfowl are going to do what they do by watching them often enough. But then, things like this happen.

Bald eagle in flight, carrying a fish

I had seen the eagle circling, but it was too far away, and it had the sun almost directly behind it, so I hadn’t shot any photos. However, when a gull began harassing the eagle, trying to get the eagle to drop the fish that it had caught, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to record the action.

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

These aren’t great, as the birds were coming at me out of the sun…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…and I was shooting almost straight up at the time…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…but these show what bullies the gulls are…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…and that the eagle held on to its lunch…

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

…and these also show the relative sizes of the herring gull and eagle..

Herring gull trying to force a bald eagle to drop its catch

I guess what really bugs me about the photos so far is how close I was to great images, but have only fair to poor photos to show for it. Being in a weather pattern that could have produced a very memorable moment if things had been slightly different several times over the course of both days for one thing. Having chosen the wrong camera body to put the long lens on for wildlife was another. At least I was able to record the gull harassing the eagle, even if the photos aren’t that good, and to shoot some good images of insects.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Red-spotted purple butterfly

 

Unidentified skipper butterfly

All of these were shot with the 5D, 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter, and I liked the way that the set-up was able to catch the metallic look of the fibers on the skipper so much that I’m including a second photo of it.

Unidentified skipper butterfly

On Friday, I spent a good deal of time in Muskegon State Park playing with the new Canon 5D Mk IV and both the 16-35 mm and 70-200 mm lenses, both to learn the new camera, and how various subjects appear at varying focal lengths when photographed with a full frame sensor camera. I shot a good many photos, but I won’t bore you with them, other than these two. You may not want to hear this, but fall is approaching sooner than we may think, since it isn’t even August yet.

First signs of fall

On the other hand, we have a good deal of summer left…

A summer day on the Muskegon State Park beach

…I hope.

A few words about the last photo. For one thing, I couldn’t believe the exposure setting required for that one, 1/50 second, f/16, and ISO 100, how did I, or any one else, ever shoot with Kodachrome 25? A bright summer day in full sun and the shutter was still as slow as it was.

I’m not sure why it is, but I take full advantage of the zoom range of the 16-35 mm lens more so than with any of my other wide zoom lenses. That was shot at 27 mm focal length. Maybe it’s because I’m becoming a better landscape photographer, but I know that I zoom in and out with that lens more as I’m setting up to shoot a photo than I’ve ever done with the other zoom lenses I have. It’s become automatic for me to grab the zoom ring of that lens as soon as I start looking through the viewfinder. I hope that I continue that trend when I acquire the 24-70 mm lens that I need to complete my kit.

I should have gotten even lower and closer to the driftwood in the foreground to have gotten exactly the image that I was going for. It seemed as if I was right on top of the driftwood, I think that I could have reached out and touched it, as I sat down in the wet sand to shoot that photo. I should have gotten down on my belly and inched closer and closer until I got what I was after. Even though I try to scan the entire viewfinder when I’m shooting a photo like that one, I still make the same mistake of not getting close enough to my foreground, just like the flowers in the “A passing storm” photo in the beginning of this post. I do better if I use the live view function to compose the scene when I shoot landscapes.

I am seeing that if I get the composition correct, that focus stacking software will be required to get everything in the frame sharp, even with wide-angle lenses. If I had been closer to the driftwood, then I wouldn’t have gotten it and the clouds in the background as sharp as they are in this photo. It took me several shots to get the correct focus point in the scene to get the entire scene as sharp as it is as it was.

I’m falling back into the habit of not using my tripod all the time when shooting landscapes. Since I don’t have to bracket images with the 5D, and I’ve been doing more playing and learning rather than shooting seriously, I’ve been shooting handheld too often since I started using the 5D. That hasn’t been all bad, I’ve taken a lot of photos that you’ll never see, and I’ve been learning from them as I go. If I was using the tripod as I should, I wouldn’t have shot many of the rejects, and I would have missed the chance to learn what I have by shooting them. I do hope to put what I’ve been learning to better use soon though.

Finally, I have to stop beating myself up and whining about having shot a few bad photos from time to time. Overall, the quality of the images that I’m shooting now is so much better than my best images from just a few years ago. I have to keep plugging away and learn from my mistakes, it’s as simple as that.

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


How swallows catch insects to eat

Before I get to the swallows…

Tree swallow in flight

… I have a pair of photos that I meant to put in my last post. Seeing some iris growing in the water along the shore of Muskegon Lake…

Yellow iris in bloom

…I couldn’t remember if the yellow ones were a rare thing in Michigan, or cultivated iris that had escaped into the wild. Either way, I wanted a better photo than the one above, and this is what I came up with by looking over all the flowers in bloom, then imagining what the finished image would look like if I shot it.

Yellow iris

It turns out that they are a species of iris that have escaped into the wild, but I like the image anyway. And, while I’m on flowers, I should include this one of multiple bladderwort flowers in bloom at the same time.

Bladderwort flowers

That’s because it shows the shape of the flowers much better than any other image of them that I’ve shot to date.

Okay then, we’ve entered the summer doldrums when it comes to birding, since the fall migration south is just beginning. There have been some shorebirds on their way south already, as they weren’t able to breed and raise young this year due to the snow and cold along the shores of Greenland and other places above the Arctic Circle. The poor birds flew thousands of mile only to find their traditional nesting sites covered in snow, and ice covering the water where they typically find food for themselves and their young. That may explain why they have lingered in the Muskegon area on their way south for the winter. Since they weren’t able to find food farther north, they have to replenish themselves before they continue their journey south. The fall migration isn’t as good for birding anyway, as the birds are no longer in their breeding plumage.

So, I’ve been a bit bored the past two or three weeks while I’ve been looking for birds, and you know what happens when I get bored. I try to do things that I don’t have the time for otherwise. This past week, my boredom led me to attempt photographing swallows in flight again.

Bank swallow in flight

Not bad, but it was too far away. And, as I watched the swallows, I saw that they were picking newly emerged insects off from the surface of the water, so I did my best to capture that.

Bank swallow in flight

But, I couldn’t tell if that swallow was successful or not. It’s the same with this photo.

Bank swallow in flight

So, I kept trying.

Bank swallow in flight

And, if you look at the reflection of the swallow in the water, you can see that it did catch an insect this time.

Bank swallow in flight

It even showed its catch off in the next frame.

Bank swallow in flight

Bank swallows are fun to watch, but I think that tree swallows with their vibrant blue backs and white chests are much prettier birds, so I found another location where they were feeding.

Tree swallow in flight

And, it didn’t take me long to record a successful catch.

Tree swallow in flight

This swallow didn’t show off its catch…

Tree swallow in flight

…but it told the world about it soon after.

Tree swallow in flight

So, this next series is simply tree swallows in flight to show how they control their flight.

Tree swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

The next day, I could only find bank swallows over the water, but I was able to shoot this series of one on the prowl.

Bank swallow in flight

I had better light, and the swallows were a bit closer to me.

Bank swallow in flight

If it matters, I was using the 7D body for its faster frame rate to catch the swallows, and the 400 mm prime lens because it is light weight and easier to track the swallows with.

Bank swallow in flight

If you look closely, you can see the insect that the swallow was about to catch.

Bank swallow in flight

Unfortunately the camera locked focus on the water when the swallow got that low, so in the next frame, the swallow was out of focus. Oh well, that gives me an excuse to try again sometime.

On the first day that I shot the swallows, there was no wind, so the swallows stayed very low over the water. As you can see in the photos, on the second day there were wind and waves, so the swallows were flying a little higher to avoid getting their wings wet. That made it easier to keep the swallows in focus while they were searching, but as they dove down to the water to catch insects, I had trouble with the auto-focus locking on the water rather than the swallows. I think that if there is another calm day in the future, I’ll try getting lower and closer to the water when the swallows are flying low to get even better images of the swallows feeding.

Although, on the windy day, it was easier to get better images of the swallows. They flew at a slower rate of speed into the wind, letting the wind blow the insects in the air to them, rather than having to chase the airborne insects down.

I have two other photos that I shot at about the same time, completely unrelated to the swallows.

Thirteen lined ground squirrel

I see these ground squirrels often, but I’m seldom able to get a photo of them.

Thirteen lined ground squirrel

Now then, a few photos that show the interaction between green herons. I don’t know if the birds involved were the parents and two offspring, or if these birds were all siblings from the same nest. I saw two of the green herons circling one of the man-made lakes at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and caught one of the pair in flight landing as it joined a third heron that a was already perched in a tree.

Green herons

They’re not the most skilled birds when landing in trees.

Green herons

It takes them a few seconds to get themselves balanced.

Green herons

Soon, the other one that I had seen in the first place joined the other two.

Green herons

I’m not sure what the very first heron was saying here.

Green herons

It could have been “Hey you, get out of my tree”, or, “I’m hungry, feed me”.

Green herons

Later, a fourth heron joined them, but that was as I was trying to get closer, and switching cameras when it landed. Getting a clear view of all four of them was impossible, even though I tried.

Green herons

Even when one left, there was still one that wouldn’t pose nicely, it was too busy preening.

Green herons

And just like that, I’m up to my self-imposed quota of photos for a post.

The weather forecast for my next two days off from work is looking iffy at the current time, but that’s always subject to change. I’ll find something to photograph one way or another.

Also, as an update to the part of my last post about focus stacking. The company whose software that I’m thinking of purchasing if I do begin to do focus stacking offers a 30 day trial of their software. In a rare move for me, I thought ahead this time and didn’t rush into downloading the free trial software immediately. I’ll wait, and while I’m waiting, I’ll shoot a few series of images, both macros and landscapes, so that I’ll have images to try out the software in-depth before I decide to make the purchase or not.

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


Rethinking many things

As always, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about ways that I can improve my photos, without going to extremes using software such as Photoshop.

It’s funny, I used to be a purist, believing that I could get the images that I wanted straight out of the camera without using any software at all, until I failed every time when using a digital camera. Gradually, and grudgingly, I gave in and began using Lightroom to make up for the lack of dynamic range of the cameras I was using at the time, and I’ve even gone so far as to purchase and use Photomatix software for the same purpose, to increase the dynamic range of the images that I shoot when part of the scene is very bright, and other parts very dark. And, I’ve begun to experiment with stitching multiple photos together to create panoramas that show more of a scene than what I would be able to capture in a single frame with even my widest lens, or for other reasons.

No matter how much I have come to rely on software, my goal has always been the same, to capture as closely as possible what I see with my own two eyes as I view a scene. I say that even though I recently posted a trick photograph of my own…

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

…where I used a double exposure to bring the full moon lower in the sky than it otherwise is. I could have shot the scene as it really was, but if I did, you’d hardly be able to see the moon in the photo.

That’s because when one uses a wide-angle lens in photography, reality becomes distorted. Things in the foreground of the image appear larger than they really are, and things in the distance, such as the moon in this case, appear farther away, and therefore smaller than they really are. I didn’t give in to the temptation of shooting the image of the moon that I used in the double exposure to use my longest tele-photo lens set-up to make the moon appear even larger than it really is in the double exposure, so I was going for as close to reality as I could.

So, I recently posted this landscape photo…

Another Michigan farm

…even though I’m not that happy with it. For one thing, there’s nothing interesting in the foreground, but another thing about this photo that I dislike is that the rolling hills in the background appear smaller than they really are, and are difficult to see because I used a wide-angle lens to shoot it. Even the barn and farmhouse look too small in this image. I wanted the width of the middle of the image, but with the hills in the background more prominent. I shot that with the 16-35 mm lens at about 20 mm if I remember correctly. Even as I viewed the scene before I shot it, I wasn’t happy, but I did the best that I thought that I could do.

That brings me to another photo that I recently posted…

Thunder cloud at dawn

…which is made of 6 images stitched together to get the entire cloud in the frame at one time. If I had an intermediate length lens to fit the new 5D Mk IV, I wouldn’t have had to stitch the 6 images shot with my medium telephoto 70-200 mm lens together to get that shot. But, that image was very easy for me to produce, and it has me thinking, as all of my photos do.

Since nature doesn’t always provide us with scenes that match our lenses and sensor sizes perfectly, I’m trying to come up with ways to work around that. I could do it with software, I’ve seen videos of people literally moving and reshaping mountains using the warp tool in Photoshop or blending images shot at varying focal lengths together to achieve the results that they wanted. However, I don’t want to spend countless hours in front of the computer editing images.

I think that panoramas are one way that I can get the results that I want without spending too much time at the computer. If I had shot several images of the landscape above at a longer focal length and stitched them together, I could have gotten the width of view I wanted, and the hills in the background would have appeared more prominent in the final image because I wouldn’t have gotten the perspective distortion from having used a wide lens. Now, I want to go back and shoot that same scene to see if it will work as I hope that it would. But, I think that I can find a place closer to home where I can test my theory on this.

It’s all about learning how to capture what I see with my eyes in a camera given the constraints that even the best modern cameras and lenses impose upon a photographer. It’s learning different techniques, and how to get the best from the equipment that I have. To that end, I have to remember all of the various techniques that I learn, and when to put each one, or a combination of them, together to produce the image that I envision when I first survey a scene. The last part is the hardest, remembering the different ways that there are to shoot the same scene to produce different results, and which one would work the best.

I must say this however, I’m loving the new 5D Mk IV with its expanded dynamic range and other improvements over the crop sensor cameras that I have been using. For example, I’ve shot a few bracketed series of images to blend into a HDR image in Photomatix with the new 5D, and I’m able to get better results with a single, well exposed image, from the 5D than what I can produce in Photomatix. But, if I were to use one of the crop sensor bodies for a landscape image, I’d still have to use bracketed images and Photomatix to produce the same results.

The fact that the 5D has so much more dynamic range that I don’t have to bracket images and use software to get the correct exposure is a good thing in more than one way. For example, I haven’t shot many time lapses of scenes because I didn’t want to take the time to go through the process of creating a HDR image of each frame within the time-lapse. Also, when creating panoramas, the exposure for all the frames that end up being stitched together has to be correct and match the other images used in the panorama, or I’d end up with part of the final image too dark or too light when compared to the image as a whole. Getting the exposure correct is much easier if I’ll be dealing with single images rather than bracketed images run through software to get the correct dynamic range. And, there’s always the problem of motion within the scene when I’m working with multiple images, for either HDR images, or when stitching images together for panoramas.

Well, I’ve been out with the camera since I began this post, and I’ve started to put some of the things that I’ve discussed to use.

After the storm

If I’d been really lucky, I would have found a good scene sooner when the storm in the distance was still producing bolts of lightning, but at least I was close to being in the right place at the right time for a change as the sun began to emerge from behind the storm cloud.

This storm missed

It may surprise you to learn that I shot both of them with the 16-35 mm lens on the 7D body. I did so to get the correct focal length to best capture the scene, since I haven’t purchased the 24-70 mm lens yet that would give me the full range of focal length lenses I need for the 5D. On the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens becomes a 56 mm lens at the long end due to the crop factor of the 7D body. I suppose that a I could have gone wider on the 5D and cropped to get to the same place, but I don’t like cropping landscape images. Also, I would have run into the problem of the background disappearing due to the use of a wide-angle lens. My other choice would have been to use the 70-200 mm lens on the 5D, but that didn’t go as wide as I wanted for that scene.

The 16-35 mm lens on the full frame 5D is crazy wide at 16 mm…

The blockhouse at Muskegon State Park

…I was standing less than 50 feet from that structure to shoot that photo.

At this point, I may as well throw this one in here at this time…

The interior of the blockhouse

…as well as this one.

Historical marker at Muskegon State Park

The stairway shot was a test of the 5D with the 16-35 mm lens in some of the worst light I’m likely to face, and I’m happy to say that I’m pleased with the results.

I have one old image to post again, shot with the 16-35 mm lens on the 7D…

Muskegon State Park sand dunes

…to compare to a six image panorama of the same scene that I shot today. The six images used were shot with the 70-200 mm lens at 70 mm on the 5D body.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park panorama

That shows that there isn’t much difference in the way that the scene appears, but it’s not a true apples to apples comparison.  The first one was the 16-35 mm lens on the crop sensor 7D, so doesn’t show how much smaller the top of the dune would appear if I used the same lens on the 5D. Also, the dune is relatively close to where I shot that from, as the distance increases, the wide-angle perspective change will be greater.

This is more of a true test of what I’m thinking of doing will work, here’s Snug Harbor in Muskegon State Park shot as a single frame with the 16-35 mm lens at 16 mm on the 5D…

Snug Harbor in Muskegon State Park

…and here’s the panorama with three images shot at 28 mm with a good deal of overlap between the images.

Snug Harbor in Muskegon State Park panorama

I probably should have gone all the way to 35 mm for that test, but as windy as it was, I did want to leave as much overlap between the images to assist in getting them lined up correctly. As it was, I was trying to time the waves on the lake so that the image wouldn’t come out looking weird.

I have a couple more images that I shot this afternoon at Muskegon State Park, they may as well go in here now.

A creek emptying into Muskegon Lake

Nothing special, just more of me learning to see through the wide-angle lens on the 5D.

A creek flowing towards Muskegon Lake

Even if the images that I shoot aren’t going to be award winners in any way, I’m still having a great time exploring the world around me through the camera.

Also, I’m thinking of trying something that I’ve never tried before, focus stacking software. While focus stacking software is often used for macro photography to get a greater depth of field and the entire subject in focus…

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified dragonfly

…I doubt that I’d be able to use it on insects…

Unidentified dragonfly

…because you really need to use a tripod and have the subject sit still for the length of time that it requires to shoot a series of images while changing the focus slightly between shots to stack together in software that blends the sharpest parts of each image in the stack together to produce a single image with the entire subject sharp and in focus.

I’d really like to give focus stacking a try when photographing flowers…

Bee balm

…so that I could get the entire flower in focus in one image.

Bee balm

I haven’t had too many times when I needed focus stacking software for landscapes, but I’m sure that as I shoot more of them, the need will arise, especially if I use a longer lens to shoot a scene.

Colors and textures

That’s one of the few times so far that the 5D camera has not produced exactly what I had hoped that it would as far as capturing the colors and textures of the vegetation in the scene. Still, that’s much better than what I’ve ever been able to do in the past, so maybe as I learn the 5D better, I’ll eventually get the shot that I want.

Back to focus stacking software, or I should say an image where it wasn’t needed, just for the heck of it.

Red milkweed beetle

There is one thing that I need to remember to do more often. If I see something that I end up shooting, even as a test shot such as the stairway in the blockhouse that I put in this post earlier, I need to “work the scene” and keep every possibility in mind as I’m shooting the scene.

The stairway in the blockhouse

While I like the warm colors of the wood in the previous image, the same scene also would lend itself to a good B&W image if I had put more thought into what I could come up with, rather than thinking only of testing the high ISO setting and dynamic range capabilities of the new 5D. By the way, the stairwell was shot at ISO 25600, and while there is noise in it, the noise is something that I could easily remove in Lightroom if I had put more thought into the image in the first place. There’s still too many times when I look at an image at home on the computer and think to myself about the ways I could have improved it if I had put more thought into what I’d end up with by changing my position or camera settings. Too many of the images I shoot end up as throw aways because that’s what I’m thinking when I shoot them, when they could have been good images if I had applied myself when I shot them.

Sometimes, I luck out, as I was testing the 100-400 mm lens without an extender behind it when I shot this mourning dove…

Mourning dove

…and I looked up again after putting the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the lens again to see that the light had changed…

Mourning dove

…so even though I had planned on moving on and not shooting any more photos of the dove, I had to shoot more when I had better light. It’s almost hard to believe the difference when it was the same dove perched on the same rock and shot from the same spot, all that changed was the sun came out from behind a cloud, and even the water in the background changed color due to the light.

Speaking of water…

Great blue heron

it makes a great background most of the time…

Great blue heron

…whether the subject is a perched bird…

Great blue heron in flight

…or in flight, or flowers…

Queen Anne’s lace

…in groups…

Queen Anne’s lace

…or a single flower head.

I know that this has been another boring post where I’ve written too much about photography, but as I’ve said before, as I take the time to type these posts out, what I’ve thought about and taken the time to type sticks with me in my memory. A few years ago, most of my babbling about photography dealt with my trials and tribulations of learning how to get good photos of birds in flight.

Now, I have the basic camera settings that I need saved in the cameras, and I can shoot images like this most of the time.

Bank swallow in flight

So, in my next post, I’ll show you how I used what I taught myself through babbling away in my blog to good use, showing the swallows plucking insects off from the surface of the water as they fly.

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


Short stories

I have plenty of photos left over from the last two weeks, I’ll have to decide if I’m going to use them now (probably) or wait until I see what I come up with next week. Hmm, looking at my calendar, I see that I have an appointment with the dermatologist this Thursday, so may not get out to shoot any photos at all on that day. My appointment is for mid-morning, which doesn’t leave me enough time before the appointment to shoot any photos. And, the weather isn’t helping either, it remains very hot and very humid here, which limits where I choose to go, and how long I stay out in the heat. So, I won’t be going out after the appointment either.

Maybe I’ll see if I can go out and shoot the Milky Way Wednesday night, then get some sleep before the appointment. I’m really itching to shoot both the Milky Way and a few star trail photos as test shots for future reference, just as the fireworks photos from my last posts were tests for in the future. I need to learn the correct exposure and other settings for my camera and lenses before I spend the time and money to go to a great location for such images.

So, I guess that I will use up the leftover photos that I have. Oh, and by the way, in preparation for, and in conjunction with the physical that I had a couple of weeks ago with my regular doctor, I had more blood work done this week. That’s both to make sure that the medicine that I’m taking to control my psoriasis isn’t causing any major side effects, and to check my overall health. I’m happy to report that I won’t see any of these guys coming for me soon…

Turkey vulture in flight

…although this one seemed to be checking me out.

Turkey vulture in flight

I saw a Cooper’s hawk in the distance being chased by some eastern kingbirds, when I looked through the long lens on my camera, I could see that the hawk had made a kill.

Cooper’s hawk with its kill being chased by an eastern kingbird

I don’t think that it was a young kingbird that the hawk had, the kingbirds weren’t making very much of a fuss, they seemed to simply want the hawk out of their territory, and soon gave up the chase.

Cooper’s hawk with its kill being chased by an eastern kingbird

I spotted a northern flicker on a dead tree…

Northern flicker and downy woodpecker

…if you look closely, you can see a much smaller downy woodpecker above the flicker. The downy was chattering away at the flicker, so I thought that the downy had a nest close by. I’ve never heard of flickers, or any other species of woodpeckers, going after the eggs or young birds of other species, so I kept an eye on the flicker.

Northern flicker

The flicker was just looking for food, and the downy woodpecker’s nest was nearby, but on the other side of the tree.

Downy woodpecker

She looked around to be sure the coast was clear, then entered the nesting cavity…

Downy woodpecker

…to feed her young…

Downy woodpecker

…I used the time that she was in there to switch to the 7D camera for more reach as she looked around again before leaving the nest.

Downy woodpecker

She was very careful about looking for predators that could have been watching her as she went in and out of the nest, but my presence there didn’t seem to bother her.

That wasn’t the case with the osprey. While I was there at their nest the first time, I could see that the female didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that I was standing in the area near the nest, but the male did seem to be bothered by my being there. I’ve never watched osprey near their nest before, so I wasn’t sure. I went back to the nest last week, and this time…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…I was sure that the male didn’t want there…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…so I shot this series of images to test out the new 5D Mk IV…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…for both its auto-focusing and dynamic range…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…and then left. The male wouldn’t land at the nest as long as I was there the second time. However, unlike the first time that I visited the nest, I couldn’t get farther away from the nest because the power utility that had built the nesting platform for the osprey had taken delivery of a load of new equipment to be used at the dam, and they had a portion of the parking lot there closed off to use for storing the new equipment. So, I doubt if I’ll return to the nest this year, if ever. Well, maybe to check in to see if the nesting platform is still being used in the future, and just to see these magnificent birds up close from time to time. I’ve gotten the photos of them that I wanted, so there’s no reason for me to stress them in hopes of a better image.

Since the nest is on top of a pole and a good distance off from the ground, I can’t see into the nest, although I did get a few poor images of the female osprey feeding one of the youngsters when I was there before.

I suppose that I could have set-up the portable hide that I still haven’t gotten around to testing, but it seemed rather foolish to use a hide in the middle of a parking lot, and I’m sure that the osprey would have still known that I was there even if I were in the hide. And, since it was another very hot, humid day, the thought of sitting in the hide and sweating to death wasn’t that appealing to me.

If I had more time to devote to shooting a single subject in a single location, things would be different. Just as with the juvenile barn swallows from my last post, I don’t want to stress the birds that I photograph any more than necessary for one or two good photos. So, I suppose that for the time being, I’m limited to telling just short stories.

I do look forward to the days when I can set-up the hide and spend time watching a bird’s nest or something else that would bring wildlife within range of my camera, there’s only a few more years for me to work before I can retire and have the time to do that.

In the meantime, I have to shoot what I can while I can. While at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I noticed this rose-breasted grosbeak acting strange.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

That was after he stood up and turned towards me. When I first saw him, he was wiggling himself down into the leaves on the ground, at first I thought that it was to stay cool.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

As it was, I had to manually focus on him due to all the vegetation between us as you can see in that image. But, you can also see that he has his feathers fluffed out a bit as he pressed himself into the leaves. I’m not sure what he was doing, if it was to stay cool, or if he was anting. For those of you not familiar with the term “anting”, here’s an explanation from Wikipedia…

“Anting is a self-anointing behavior during which birds rub insects, usually ants, on their feathers and skin. The bird may pick up the insects in their bill and rub them on the body (active anting), or the bird may lie in an area of high density of the insects and perform dust bathing-like movements (passive anting). The insects secrete liquids containing chemicals such as formic acid, which can act as an insecticide, miticide, fungicide, or bactericide. Alternatively, anting could make the insects edible by removing the distasteful acid, or, possibly supplement the bird’s own preen oil.”

Scientists still haven’t figured out why birds do what they do when it comes to anting, so whenever I get a chance to photograph a bird that my be doing that, I shoot photos, even if the photos are as poor as those are.

And, I’m still trying to get a good image of a male rose-breasted grosbeak this year. This isn’t it…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

…I’m afraid that my chances are getting slim, as they will soon be molting out of their breeding plumage. It’s funny, I have several good images of the females of that species this year, with them posing for me in good light. Typically, the females are harder to photograph, because they tend to stay in the shadows or out of sight completely. This year, it’s been the males skulking in the shadows, and the females out in the open.

Here’s another short series of images that show a red-bellied woodpecker finding and eating something that I can’t identify…

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…even though what it found to eat was quite large…

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…and whatever it was must have tasted good judging by the woodpecker’s reaction.

Male red-bellied woodpecker

By the way, my plans to attempt to photograph the Milky Way and/or star trails was thwarted by clouds moving into the area, so I’ll have to wait for another chance to try that genre of photography.

Okay, it’s now Saturday morning, with three more days of very hot, humid days left before more seasonable and comfortable weather arrives here in West Michigan.

After the appointment with the dermatologist on Thursday, I returned home for a while to catch up on chores indoors and out of the heat. Later that day, when I checked the weather forecast and radar to see what Friday was going to be like, I saw dying thunder-storms to the north of where I live, along the route that I drive each night for work. There are several good places along that route for either sunset, storm, or more traditional landscape images, so I thought that I would risk driving that far for photography. It was a chance that I took that didn’t turn out very well. I missed the back of the cloud line as the storms collapsed at around sunset by being about 30 miles too far to the west judging from some of the sunset photos that I saw others had shot that evening. I never did see a bolt of lightning, or hear thunder, but at least there was a little rain. All that I ended up with were three poor landscapes that I’ll put in at the end of this post.

Anyway, taking that trip on Thursday evening more or less ruined my Friday as well. I slept in too late to get anywhere by dawn, and it was another very hot day. Birds don’t like heat any more than we do, and they tend to stay in shady areas and not do very much other than try to stay cool. By the time that I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, it was already hot, and the birds were few and far between. So, I decided to make it a test day of sorts, trying all of my long lenses and tele-converters in various combinations to see how well that they work on the new Canon 5D Mk IV camera that I recently purchased.

One combination that I wanted to test was the 300 mm f/4 Series lens with the 2 X teleconverter. That’s because it’s an f/4 lens, one stop faster than either my 400 mm prime lens, or the 100-400 mm zoom lens.  With the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens, I thought that I’d be able to get 600 mm of focal length and use all 61 of the focus points of the 5D. Nope, I can use all the focus points at f/8 with either of the other two lenses and a 1.4 extender with an effective aperture of f/8, but with the 300 mm lens and the 2 X extender for the same effective aperture of f/8, I’m limited to just one row of focus points across the center of the frame. Another Canon quirk.

Before I purchased the 5D Mk IV, I downloaded the manual for it that includes a lens compatibility chart which lists Canon’s various lenses and how many focus points can be used with either the 1.4 X or 2 X tele-converters. Of course I checked the chart for the 400 mm prime and 100-400 mm zoom lenses, because they are the lenses that I use most often, and I was never that happy with the performance of the 300 mm prime lens when I used it with the 60D or 7D Mk II cameras. I saw that both of the longer lenses worked fine at f/8 effective aperture, so after thinking about trying the 300 mm lens on the 5D, I assumed that it would as well.

You would think that f/8 was f/8 no matter which lens was on the camera as far as the focus system inside of the camera body, but it doesn’t work that way I found out, the hard way.

I know, I’m getting far too technical for most people, but these things matter to me as I’m going after the photos that I shoot, and I hope that the information that I pass on will help others who shoot with Canon equipment. Because, I discovered yet another Canon quirk. As I said, I was never very happy with the performance of the 300 mm prime lens on either of my crop sensor camera bodies when the subject that I was shooting was more than about 20 feet from me. The 300 mm lens wasn’t as sharp as I wanted, with or without an extender behind it. It has done an excellent job on subjects very close to me though.

So, here’s the surprise…

Male dickcissel preening

…the 300 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter work very well on the new 5D Mk IV at all ranges from what I could tell from my testing on Friday.

Grasshopper sparrow on a sunflower

I wrote in an earlier post that some Canon lenses perform much better on either full frame or crop sensor bodies than they do on the other type of bodies, and that seems to be the case with the 300 mm lens. I don’t think that it’s quite as sharp as either of my other two long Canon lenses, but it produced acceptable results for me in my limited testing so far. Much better than it did on either of my crop sensor bodies.

It just hit me, now I’m going to have to try the Sigma 150-500 mm lens out on the 5D to see how well it performs on the new camera, sigh.

I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do, but I will anyway, for it shows the results that I got using the various lens/extender combinations while shooting gulls. I know that gulls are boring to most people to begin with, but they do pose nicely for me, a great subject for testing lens and camera performance.

Ring-billed gull

And, having a lot of white feathers, they help me to evaluate the exposure system of my gear.

Herring gull

Also, because they are very sleek in their appearance, most of the time, I can judge the resolution of the various lens/extender combinations better.

Ring-billed gull

To tell you the truth, I don’t see much difference in these images no matter which lens and extender was used to shoot them. I do remember that this next one was shot with the 400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender because I had to manually focus with that combination and I was still able to get a good, sharp image of the gull.

Ring-billed gull

And, I remember that this next one was shot with just the 400 mm lens, because I wasn’t able to get close enough to any of the gulls to get a head shot with just that lens and no extender.

Ring-billed gull

Once again, I’m sorry for posting so many photos of the gulls, but the things that I learn while shooting these tests will help me in the future. Earlier this summer, I was doing dedicated outings where I was focusing mostly on one genre of photography, such as macros, landscapes, or just wide-angle photography. I plan to do more of those in the future, especially after I retire in a few years. Knowing how my various lenses and extenders function on each camera body will become more important when I do make the transition to more dedicated outings.

Besides, since it was another very hot day on Friday, other photos that I shot look like this one…

Sandhill crane

…with the crane panting in the heat, and you can also see the heat waves coming off the ground behind the crane.

So, that brings me to the three landscape photos that I shot Thursday evening. None of them are great, but they do give you a better idea of what Michigan looks like.

A “pothole” wetland, of which there are many in Michigan

At one time, after the great forests that covered most of Michigan were cut down for timber, much of the state was farmed. However, the land here isn’t that fertile, so many farms have been abandoned or have become dairy or cattle farms rather than crop farms.

More of Michigan

This next one is one of the views that I see every evening while driving for work, and prompted me to make this trip. I like this scene because you can see the gently rolling hills and forests of the state I live in. By the way, it was nice of the white cow that you can barely make out in this photo to stand still for the 3 second exposure required for this image.

Another Michigan farm

Bad weather, or times when the weather is changing, often produces the most dramatic images. However, as I said earlier, I missed the change from heavy overcast skies to broken clouds colored by the setting sun by a few miles, darn. But in my defense, I had to guess where the clearing line would be when I arrived in the area that I wanted to shoot over an hour before my arrival there. Or, if I had been able to capture lightning bolts in any of the photos above from the dying storm, these would have been much better.

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


Just the beginning, part two

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

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

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

Thunder cloud at dawn

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

Thunder cloud at dawn

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

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

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

4th of July fireworks

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

4th of July fireworks

…after moving a few feet to my left.

4th of July fireworks

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

4th of July fireworks

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

4th of July fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

Unidentified green insect

 

Unidentified white flowers

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

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

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

Juvenile barn swallows

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

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

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

Morning mute swans

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

Mute swan preening

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

Herring gull

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

Herring gull

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

Herring gull

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

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

Common raven

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

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

Red-winged blackbird

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

Male northern cardinal singing

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

Green heron in flight

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

Green heron in flight

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

Buttonbush flower

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

Unidentified sunflower

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

Spotted horsemint or bee balm

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

Sparkly water

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

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

Mute swans flocking together

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

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

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

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


Just the beginning

I’m starting this post as I drink my morning coffee before heading out for my second day of shooting with my new 5D Mk IV camera. I’ve had more time to look more closely at the photos that I shot yesterday, and all I can say is that I’m very happy with what I see. The final output from Lightroom may not be a huge leap in quality over what I was able to get from the 7D Mk II, but the RAW images from the camera are much better, and I’m just getting started with the 5D. As time goes on, and I get to know the camera better, and learn to process the images better in Lightroom, I think that I’ll see even more improvement in the overall quality of my images.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll stop using the 7D, with its crop factor, it gets me closer to my subjects. However, I will limit when I use it to those times when I have enough light to keep the ISO settings down to a reasonable level for that camera. It’s all about getting the best possible images on a given day.

I’m back home now after my second day of trying out the new camera.

I would have liked to have tried a few different places to go with the new camera, but we’re in the middle of a heat wave here with temperatures climbing over 90 degrees (32 C). Unfortunately, that’s forecast to continue for the next week to 10 days, so it looks like I’ll be stuck going to Muskegon until it cools off.

That’s because Muskegon is on the shore of Lake Michigan, and although it’s now officially summer, the water of the big lake is still cool enough so that when the wind blows the hot air over the lake, the air is cooled by as much as 15 to 20 degrees, so the wind coming off the lake is nature’s air conditioning. It helps that we had an east wind most of the preceding week, which blew what little warm water that there was in Lake Michigan to the other side of the lake, letting 50 degree  (10 C) water come to the surface on the Muskegon side of the lake. That cool breeze coming off from the lake sure felt good! I would have liked to have spent some time on the beach shooting landscapes, but as you may imagine, the beaches are a popular place for people looking to escape the heat, and therefore very crowded when it’s this hot.

I began my day by returning to the scene of the crime from the day before, when I had a menu item in the new camera set incorrectly which caused most of my images of the wildflowers to be unusable. While I had great light once again, it was also windy already just after sunrise, but I did mange to get better images than on the previous day.

Purple prairie clover

I should know by now that I should install one of the extension tubes behind the macro lens whenever I’m photographing flowers so that I can get closer to any insects that appear on the flowers.

Unidentified bee on purple prairie clover

But, as much as the wind was blowing the flower with the bee around, I suppose that I’m lucky to have gotten that one.

A few more flowers…

Butterfly weed

 

Butterfly weed

 

Milkweed flower

…and the insects that I saw while shooting the flowers…

Red milkweed beetles mating

…this next one is straight out of the camera, as it was a test shot for me and I love it so much I have to include it here…

Rabbit’s foot clover

…when this is what I was shooting the test shot to end up with…

Rabbit’s foot clover

…and I was about to try for a better shot of the insect on this flower…

Unidentified flowering object with guest

…when another insect landed on the same flower, and I couldn’t decide which bug to go for…

Unidentified flowering object with guests

…the long skinny bug made up my mind for me by flying away, leaving me with the green bee to shoot…

Unidentified flowering object with guest

…until it too took off, so I was able to get this clean shot of a flower that looks like a rose, but I don’t think that it is.

Unidentified flowering object

Well, it’s time for me to write something that I’m sure that you’ll tire of reading in my next few posts, the Canon 5D Mk IV is a huge step forward over the 7D camera that I have been using. All of the images you’ve seen so far were shot with the 100 mm macro lens that I’ve been using for a few years now. However, the clarity, resolution, and details is much better, almost if I had a new lens. Also, and it’s hard to explain this, but the images look brighter, even though the I try to keep the exposure of the final image the same as I have been. I think that it’s because the color reproduction is much better, especially with the warmer colors such as yellows, reds, and oranges.

What ever the reason, I love what I’ve seen so far, and it was only my second time out with it. I’m already learning that there are a few differences between the two cameras, the 7D tends to under-expose most scenes, while the exposure system of the 5D is more accurate. Both cameras use the same system, first introduced in the 7D, but Canon’s engineers must have fine tuned the system since the 7D was introduced. It’s the same with the auto-focusing system, again, both cameras use the same system, but they have refined it a great deal in the 5D.

As much as I love the overall image quality of the 5D, it’s hard to beat the 7D especially for getting close to the subject that I’m shooting.

Grasshopper sparrow

And, it isn’t as if the image quality is horrible…

Grasshopper sparrow singing

…so I’ll have to give some thought to which camera to use…

Male dickcissel singing

…small songbird singing from the treetops…

Male dickcissel singing

…or perched on a wire…

Northern mockingbird

…then I should use the 7D for its reach.

Northern mockingbird

By the way, after searching for the mockingbird for a month, it has made itself visible to me on my last three trips.

Northern mockingbird

However, if I’m close to a small bird that’s under the leaf canopy on a bright, sunny day…

Female yellow warbler

…then I should use the 5D for its low noise at higher ISO settings and wider dynamic range.

Common yellowthroat

The 5D works just fine if I do see a bird in good light!

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

This next photo reminds me, I didn’t install the free battery grip that I received with the 5D until I got home from my second day of using the new camera.

Male downy woodpecker

On the evening that I picked up the camera, I didn’t have time to fool around installing the grip. After using the camera without it the first day, I loved how light the 5D was to carry compared to my 7D which I do have the grip installed on.

The battery grips for both bodies weigh far more than it looks like they would, given how small they are. It isn’t the weight of the batteries, I’ve removed one of the batteries from the 7D in the past in an attempt to lighten the camera up a little, and even the removal of the battery didn’t seem to help. However, I do like using the battery grip a lot, both when shooting in either landscape or portrait orientation, and for just carrying the camera around. I’ll live with the extra weight of the grips to make use of how much better I can hold the cameras with them installed.

Female downy woodpecker

In either orientation, I’m able to get a better grip on the camera, which I believe leads to sharper images because I can hold the camera steadier with the grip on it. They are called grips for a reason, and the ones that Canon designed for both bodies do give me a much better feel and hold on the camera while I’m using it.

That brings me to one other thing that I should mention, both bodies can use the same batteries and memory cards.  That meant that I could use my spare batteries and cards in the new body when it arrived to save myself a little money for the time being. I will add a battery or two, and a couple of more memory cards to my kit, but I can get by with what I have for the time being. And, I don’t have to worry about making sure that I have the right spare stuff for each camera with me, what fits one fits the other.

Anyway, back to choosing which came I should use. For insects shot with the longer lenses, it doesn’t seem to matter which body I use…

Monarch butterfly

…both bodies perform well in good light…

Dragonfly

…although, I can tell which body I used for each of these images…

Dragonfly

…I doubt that the average reader of my blog can, or if they even care which body I used.

For landscapes, it’s the 5D hands down!

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

That one was shot at 20 mm, the next one at 35 mm, as I play with the newer 16-35 mm lens and learn to use it. I did shoot one at 16 mm, but that was too wide of a focal length for a good portrayal of the scene. But, that helped me to realize how wide that lens will go on the full frame body.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

Just for comparison, here’s about the same scene shot with the same lens but on the 7D from earlier this spring, and at 16 mm.

Muskegon State Park sand dunes

Sorry, I’m sure that most of you don’t care which camera, lens, and focal length that I shot the photo with, but that’s very useful to me for future reference.

Since I tend to be a nerd when it comes to figuring things out, I can think of a number of ways to compare the 7D to the 5D in images, but it doesn’t really matter. The 7D is a 20 MP crop sensor body and the 5D is a 30 MP full frame sensor body, so theoretically, the 7D should have slightly higher resolution due to the smaller pixels packed into the smaller sensor. I do see that to some degree in the few images that I’ve shot with the 5D, however, the overall quality of the images shot with the 5D is much better. It’s almost as if some one raised the clarity slider in Lightroom a good deal in the images shot with the 5D. That, along with more accurate color reproduction and increased dynamic range are the reasons for the differences in image quality that I see, I believe. Again, it doesn’t really matter, they are the two camera bodies that I have to work with, although the more I learn, the better my images will be, no matter which camera I use at the time. And, since I don’t want to end this post with that image shot before the trees leafed out, here’s one more from the new 5D.

Pickerel weed flowers

Like I said, it doesn’t matter why the image quality is better, as long as it is, and I’m happy with what I see, which I am. Much more than I thought that I would, as I thought that the only real difference would be less noise at higher ISO settings.

If it doesn’t cool off around here, and the weather forecast isn’t looking good for that to happen, I may have to try out the new camera doing some night photography to help escape the heat.

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


Return to osprey land

A few posts back, I had a few photos of an osprey nest and the osprey that built it. On Friday, it was cloudy with occasional sprinkles of rain around home, but the weather was much nicer not that far to the north of where I live, so I thought that it would be a good day to return to the osprey nest and see if I could shoot a few good images of them.

Osprey in flight

Since very few of the images of the osprey that appear in this post were cropped at all…

Osprey in flight

…I think that these qualify, even if the light wasn’t always the best.

Osprey in flight

It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, and almost too easy to get photos of the osprey in flight.

Osprey in flight

You can see that the osprey is carrying what’s left of a fish that it had caught. From watching the osprey for as long as I did, I was able to tell that the one seen above was the male returning to its nest…

Male osprey bringing a fish to the waiting female and two youngsters in the nest

…as female osprey are larger than the males, and that the males do most of the fishing for the family. The males also typically eat the heads from their catch before bringing the remainder back to the nest.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go back to the beginning, here’s a map of the area to start with.

Dam sign

And since the osprey nest is right next to the dam, here’s a shot looking up the Muskegon River, which is known as Rogers Pond behind the dam.

The Muskegon River (Rogers Pond)

And, here’s the view of the Muskegon River looking downstream from the top of the dam.

The Muskegon River slow Rogers Dam

Sorry about the power lines, since it’s a hydroelectric dam, they sort of go with the territory.

As you can see, it was sunny when I arrived, but the clouds soon moved in from the south, and I had to shoot in less than ideal conditions for most of my time there. Although, the clouds meant that I could shoot in any direction, I had planned this trip to have the sun at a low angle and behind me as I looked at the nest, shown here with the two chicks’ heads showing.

Osprey nest with two chicks in it

The chicks are aware of their surroundings, the chick on the left stared straight at me when it saw me.

Osprey nest with two chicks in it

Basically, my time there consisted of standing around watching the nest and the skies around it looking for the male to return with fish.

There were a few gulls around, and I was surprised that neither of the osprey chased the gulls away, as gulls will eat anything that don’t eat them, but maybe the osprey chicks are too large for the gulls. Also, the gulls hung around the spillway at the dam, picking up the fish that had been injured by being sucked through the turbines that generate power. I wondered why the osprey didn’t do the same thing.

At one point, I saw the male osprey come up the river towards the nest, then spiral down to the river below at the spillway. I wanted to run over watch what happened, but I didn’t. A few minutes later, the male appeared over the top of the dam again, with a fish, which is what I thought would happen, and I wanted to be close to the nest if he flew directly to it.

Male osprey carrying a fish

You can just make out that it’s the entire fish that it is carrying…

Male osprey carrying a fish

…a while later, he returned to the nest with the portion he hadn’t eaten himself.

Male osprey carrying part of a fish

I shot over 350 photos that day, and almost all of them are of osprey in flight. I could easily fill this post with good ones that I shot…

Osprey in flight

…but I’m not sure how many of them I’ll use in this post. Many of them look like the same image as before unless you examine them closely. I’d like to return to the nest again when the skies are clear and I have better light, and for other reasons.

One is my work schedule. I start my workweek on Saturdays, at 4:45 PM. I typically finish my workday 12 hours later, meaning I get home around 5 AM. Sundays, I start at 7:15 PM, and finish at about the same time the next morning. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I start at almost 8 PM, and again, I get home around 5 AM. On Wednesdays, I start at 4 PM and work just four hours, which means I get home just after 8 PM. That schedule is working well for me, on Wednesdays, I come home, eat supper, then go to bed, even though it’s much earlier than during the rest of the workweek. That gets me to the places that I typically go to at dawn, or shortly after, which means I’ve had very good light on most of my days off from work.

However, it means that I have to flip my sleep time 180 degrees twice a week, once at the end of my workweek, once at the beginning.

However, where the osprey nest is located, the best time of the day for photographing the osprey is late afternoon, because of the angle of the sun at that time. It worked well for me this week, other than the clouds rolling in after I arrived. I was able to go right back to my normal sleep pattern sooner, so I was able to sleep normally on the day that I returned to work.

This new schedule for work is going well on many levels, I don’t want to bore you with all of them, but it will also make capturing sunsets or doing night photography easier in the future.

There’s another reason for me to return to the osprey nest again, no mosquitos. That’s one of the reasons I return to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and the Muskegon County wastewater facility as often as I do, I don’t need to use insect repellent.

I have psoriasis, a hereditary auto immune skin condition. I had a really bad flare-up of my psoriasis last spring that sent me to the hospital for almost a full week, which I’m still paying for, by the way. Since that flare-up, and with the drugs that I’m taking, my psoriasis has been under control very well, better than at any time during my adult life. However, the few times that I have applied insect repellent this spring, I’ve noticed that it aggravates my psoriasis, something that I suspected in the past. So, I’d like to avoid using insect repellent as much as I can, since it’s been great to have the psoriasis under control as it has been.

I sure don’t want to wind up in the hospital again, not that I think that a few applications of insect repellent is going to cause that, but the quality of my everyday life has been improved much more than I thought that it would by having the psoriasis under control. I had set my mind to the fact that I was going to have to live with it the way that it was for the rest of my life, and having it under control is something that I no longer care to risk.

By the way, I just went in for my yearly physical in the morning before going to shoot the osprey, and I’m still as healthy as a horse, which I’d like to maintain.

Trying to avoid mosquitos and repellent is problematic for a nature photographer in Michigan, along with ticks, which I hadn’t mentioned yet, are just about everywhere in Michigan. So, when I find a place where I can shoot good photos without having to apply insect repellent, I have to think about returning at least several times, until I get the best possible images that I can. The images that I shot of the osprey on this trip are good, but with better light, I can do better.

Because of how thick the clouds became as I waited there, and the resulting loss of light, there’s more noise in the images that I shot on this day than there would be if I had better light. That noise was compounded by how much I had to raise the level of the shadow areas in Lightroom, due to the bright white of the clouds in the background. As it was, I blew out the sky in almost every one of the images that I shot to get the darker parts of the osprey as bright as they should be when seen with the human eye. I hate to bring it up again, but I was dealing with the 7D Mk II’s lack of dynamic range and its poor high ISO capabilities when compared to a full frame sensor camera. I didn’t really need the extra reach of the crop sensor 7D, as I walked away from the nest to be sure that I’d be able to get the osprey’s entire wingspan in the frame as they approached the nest.

Osprey coming in for a landing

That’s the female by the way, she left the nest twice, I assume just to get some exercise, as she flew around in circles near the nest, never letting it get out of sight, and returned quickly after both of her short flights.

Anyway, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the images of the osprey that I shot, I was able to more than completely fill the frame with their wings several times without cropping the images…

Osprey in flight

…and I shot enough of them in the last of the good light that I should be, and I am, very happy with these. Still, knowing that I could do even better is a tempting thought, both as far as camera gear, and the weather is concerned.

I’ve been doing what may be a dumb thing lately, I know what camera gear I want to end up with, so I’ve been carrying the gear that I do have which is the closest that I can come to where I want to end up. I thought that it would be a good way to confirm that the plans I was making were solid and would work. They have, probably too well, for even though I’m getting the best images of my life with what I have now, knowing what the future will be like only makes me want to get to that point sooner.

I’m more positive than ever that having the 7D with its crop sensor for reach in good light, and having a full frame sensor camera to use in lower light will be a great combination for me. Seeing the images that I’ve been shooting with the 16-35 mm lens only makes me want to use it on a full frame camera even more. The 24-70 mm lens with its near macro capabilities, along with the 100-400 mm lens and its close focusing capabilities will also be a great combination of lenses for me to mix and match from between the two camera bodies I’ll carry in the future. The thought of carrying just two cameras and two lenses to cover 90% of what I typically photograph is very appealing to me.

The only fly in the ointment so far has been using the 60D body for macro photography. I love being able to use its swiveling screen at times when shooting macros, but its low light performance is even worse than the 7D body, so flowers and insects have to be in full sun or I need to use fill light from another source for good macro photos. I can work around that though.

There’s one more reason that I’m chomping at the bit about a full frame camera again, the recent Supreme Court ruling on the states being able to collect sales tax on purchases made outside of the state means that I’ll soon see the price of the camera and lens I want jump another 6% if I wait.

So, the time seemed right to make the move, and I did, I’ve ordered just the Canon 5D Mk IV, unfortunately, I can’t afford the 24-70 mm lens at this time, but I should be able to swing that by this fall if things go well. Getting the camera at $400 off, along with a free $300 battery grip, and a few needed accessories to go with it were just too much for me to resist. I should receive the camera in time for my next outing, so I should start thinking about where I’ll go to test it out.

I may well return to the osprey nest one afternoon to see how the new camera handles birds in flight, and I think that going somewhere to shoot landscapes would be a good test as well. Landscapes will be a good way to test the dynamic range of the 5D, and I’ll also be able to see what the 16-35 mm lens is capable of on the full frame body. I may not have the 24-70 mm lens yet, but I do have my 70-200 mm lens for longer landscapes. Plus, if needed, I can shoot more panoramas if I need a lens between 35 mm and 70 mm.

Although with some further thought, I shouldn’t go somewhere that’s very special for landscapes, it will be my first time out with the new camera. If you look at the 7D and the 5D, the controls are almost exactly the same with only minor differences that will be easy for me to get used to. It’s the things in the menu system that I have to think about. While I can copy the settings that I use in the 7D, there are so many things in the menu that I need to change that I’m sure that I’ll miss a few items.

Also, the 5D Mk IV has a touchscreen, something that I’ve never used yet. The touchscreen works for both navigating the menu system, and for auto-focusing in live view, so I’ll have to learn to use it to full advantage, but that’s not something that I need to learn right away.

Okay, I suspended working on this post until I had the chance to get out with the new Canon 5D Mk IV. I had a few missteps early on, I tried a setting that it has that isn’t available in the 7D, and so I messed up a good morning to shoot some terrific macros of flowers.

Butterfly weed

 

Milkweed flower

 

Butterfly weed

Actually, it was a combination of a menu setting and my not remembering to change other settings from after I had shot this image of the sunrise.

June sunrise

That isn’t a HDR image, I was able to the highlights and shadows adjustments in Lightroom to get that photo the way that I wanted it to look. That’s a huge improvement in dynamic range over the 7D Mk II!

Also, and this surprised me, there’s a large increase in image quality even when I had good light to work with. I spotted a pair of mute swans and shot several photos with the 5D, then switched to the 7D with the same lens and tele-converter. Here’s the 7D image…

Mute swan shot with the 7D Mk II

…and here’s the same swan shot with the 5D.

Mute swan shot with the 5D Mk IV

Some of the perceived increase in image quality is due to the overall exposure, however, some of that difference is due to the lower dynamic range of the 7D, which requires more adjustments to bring the final image to where it needs to be.

By the way, the image from the 7D didn’t need to be cropped at all, I did crop the image from the 5D slightly.

Later in the day, I had the chance to test the low-light capabilities of the 5D, this image was shot at ISO 25600…

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

…and there’s very little noise in it compared to what I get with the 7D at ISO 12800. I used Lightroom to clean up a little of the noise, and came up with this.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

If the subject was something special, I could tweak that a good deal more in Lightroom, because the base image is so much better than what I would have gotten with the 7D, and not just the noise, but because of the better dynamic range and resolution with the 5D.

The 5D Mk IV also has a better auto-focusing system, which I was able to test. With the 100-400 mm lens and the 1.4 X tele-converter, I can only use the center focusing point with the 7D. With the 5D Mk IV, I can use all 61 focus points, and I put that to use when shooting this young bunny.

Young cottontail rabbit

I was able to move to a focus point that landed on the bunny’s eye, so that the eye looks sharp in the image.

Also, because I can use all the focus points when shooting with the tele-converter, I can use more than one when shooting birds in flight.

Great egrets in flight

 

Great egret in flight

I will say this though, the 7D will shoot ten frames per second, the 5D Mk IV can “only” shoot seven frames per second.

Green heron in flight

I’m not sure if I’ll miss those three frames per second, but I sure notice the difference in sound between the two bodies, the 5D sounds much slower.

Green heron in flight

But, that could also be because the shutter of the 5D is much quieter to begin with.

Green heron in flight

The quite shutter is a good thing, because I’ve seen wildlife respond to the sound of the shutter of the 7D, and so far, I haven’t noticed that happening in the few shots that I have taken with the 5D so far.

Green heron in flight

Also, this was my first day out with the 5D, my images will only get better as I live with the camera longer.

Green heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

All in all, it was an impressive first time out with the new 5D, better than I had hoped for. One thing that I have learned is that I have to really get to know a camera before I can get my best images from it. I’m still tweaking the 7D even though I’ve been using it for a couple of years now.

I think that the 5D is going to prove that it is also lucky, not that I’m superstitious or anything. But, I did get the best view of a belted kingfisher that I have ever had today…

Male belted kingfisher

…and I was almost going to put the lens on the 7D for the added reach of its crop factor, when his mate landed even closer to me…

Belted kingfishers

…and, she was carrying a minnow she had just caught.

Female belted kingfisher

I have two more landscapes for this post…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because I absolutely love having the expanded dynamic range of the 5D…

Muskegon State Park at Snug Harbor

…and because I love the 16-35 mm lens and the images it produces.

I love having my images turn out looking like what I saw when I pressed the shutter release!

That brings up the final thing that I have to say about the new Canon 5D Mk IV, you may not see any huge leap in the final image quality between it and what I have been posting shot with the 7D Mk II, but, it takes me far less time in Lightroom prepping the photos for posting here. The RAW images from new the camera only need a few tweaks, I don’t have to expand the dynamic range of every image as I’ve had to with the 7D. Less time sitting in front of the computer is always a good thing.

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


From the boardwalk

I’m going to attempt to stick with one topic for this post, the photos that I’ve shot recently at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I’m sure that I did a post on this nature preserve in the past, but I think that it’s time for me to do an updated post on it, since it’s one of the places that I visit regularly.

To begin with, here’s a map that I swiped off from the internet.

Map of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

 

And then, a photo to get things started.

Swamp sparrow

I have better images, but the swamp sparrow is a fitting subject to start with. As you can see from the map, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is a peninsula jutting out into the Muskegon River delta where the river meets Muskegon Lake. Actually, with the water levels of Lake Michigan, and therefore all the connected bodies of water like Muskegon Lake, much higher than they were a few years ago, the preserve is more of an island than a peninsula until the water levels drop again. There’s water flowing under both of the two bridges that you can use to get from the parking lot to the preserve itself.

Most of the preserve is marshy or under water completely, and the dry land portions are thick tangles of vegetation that has taken hold since the area was cleaned up after being used as a dump for years. It’s a perfect example of nature reclaiming land that had been abused by man in the past. I don’t know how large the overall size of the preserve is, I would estimate that the parts of it that are dry land are between 5 and 10 acres total, not very large at all. Most of the preserve is marsh, as this photo shot from the bridge to enter the preserve shows.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

You can see on the map, as well as in my photos to follow, that it’s far from a wilderness area. To the east is one of the few north/south roads that has a bridge to cross the Muskegon river, and it’s a state highway that carries a good deal of traffic. To the west is a condominium development and a mariana. To the south is the main part of the north branch of the Muskegon River where it enters Muskegon Lake, and across the river is the old Cobb coal-fired power plant that is being decommissioned now.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I titled this post “From the boardwalk” because at least half of the paths look like this…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this view along the river…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this section of boardwalk across the marsh.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

I’d guess that the total length of the paths I usually walk is less than a mile, but I normally spend several hours there because I move very slowly. That’s because the vegetation is so thick there that I take a few steps, try to look through any openings in the vegetation, then move a few more steps. This is the way the path typically looks in the summer.

The path at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

The bad news is that it’s had to see the birds as they hide in the vegetation, the good news is that if you do see one, it’s almost always very close.

Grey catbird bringing home the bacon

 

Where the bacon ended up going (juvenile grey catbird)

The preserve is at the north end of a much longer system of paths meant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in the greater Muskegon area, and therefore is a very popular place. Most people never see the birds or other wildlife there, but the wildlife sees them, and has become accustomed to having people nearby up to a point. It isn’t as if the wildlife is tame, but human activity and noise doesn’t bother the wildlife as much as in more natural settings. That also helps me get close to what I’m trying to photograph. Here’s a view of the main bike/walking path through the preserve.

The bike path through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

That was shot from one of the two raised observation decks that have been built there at the preserve. The first raised observation deck is on dry land…

observation deck at the MLNP

…and I thought that it would be a great place to photograph birds that live in the leaf canopy from, however, I seldom see any birds in the trees next to the deck. The second observation deck is built out over the marsh, and once in a while, I hang out there to photograph birds flying past that deck.

Green heron in flight

Because of the height of the observation deck…

Green heron in flight

…I’m not shooting at such a high angle upwards, so it looks like I’m at about the same elevation as the birds flying past me. That’s unlike this image…

Great blue heron in flight

…which I shot with the heron directly over me as I shot it.

Most of the time that I’m there, I’m either in the thick vegetation on the dry land portion of the preserve photographing songbirds…

Blue jay

…or standing in one place on the boardwalk waiting to see what appears in the marsh for me to photograph.

Muskrat eating a cattail

In that photo, you can see that the muskrat tears the cattail stalks apart to eat the center portion of the cattail, leaving the outer sheath of the leaves. Here’s a photo of another muskrat bring cattails back to its den.

Muskrat bringing cattails back to its den

Also from the boardwalk, I shot this series of images showing a first year male red-winged blackbird bathing.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

Because of the height of the boardwalk I have to shoot down to photograph subjects such as the muskrat or this red-winged blackbird…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…however, I have all the time in the world to get the camera settings right to produce the images that I want…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…getting the shutter speed high enough to freeze the blackbird’s head, but showing the motion blur of the bird’s body and the water drops.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

As small as the preserve is, and with so many people using it, I’m always surprised when I see deer there.

Whitetail doe

For this series, I was standing in the dense vegetation waiting for birds to land close to me, when the deer came into view. She knew I was there, but that didn’t stop her from sampling the food there.

Whitetail doe

 

Whitetail doe

After she finished her snack, I was able to shoot a better photo of her.

Whitetail doe

Here are a few of the other subjects that I’ve photographed there recently.

Cottontail rabbit

 

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

 

Honeysuckle flowers

 

Damselfly

 

Damselfly

There aren’t that many mosquitos at the preserve, not when you look at all the still water and vegetation around, and I think that the lack of them is due to the large number of damsel and dragonflies, along with insect-eating birds, such as this barn swallow.

Barn swallow

It must have been full and also very happy, for it landed on the railing of the boardwalk next to me and began singing away.

Barn swallow

It was singing a toe tapping song as you can see from that last image. 😉

Barn swallow

I mentioned the height of the boardwalk earlier in this post, that’s good in a way, because you can see down through the reeds and other aquatic vegetation whereas, if the boardwalk was lower to the water, you’d only be able to see a wall of reeds as you walked along the boardwalk. Because of that fact, I’ve been able to photograph a number of species of birds that are difficult to photograph because of their preferred habitat. The list of species I’ve shot there includes the Virginia Rail, marsh wren, and least bittern.

Least bittern

 

Least bittern

It may not look like it from my photos here, but I had to use manual focus to get those shots, as the auto-focusing system of camera and lens couldn’t pick the bird out from the thick vegetation that it was in. The least bittern may be the most difficult species of bird to photograph that I’ve run into so far, but the Virginia rail…

Virginia rail

…was a very close runner-up.

I take that back, the Virginia rail is a more difficult species to photograph, because it stays in the reeds all the time, while the least bitterns do fly above the reeds…

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

…but one has to be quick to catch them during one of their short flights.

Gee, I’ve reached my self-imposed quota of photos for a post, and I still have quite a few left. So, I’m going to add this one…

Panorama from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because it’s one of my first attempts at shooting a panorama and was made with three images shot with the 16-35 mm lens and stitched together in Lightroom. As easy as Lightroom makes it to create a panorama, it’s something that I need to do more of in the future so that I become better at setting up to shoot them. I really should have zoomed in more, and added another image if I had then needed it. But, that’s getting off topic.

Anyway, I do have enough photos for another post shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m sure to return there, but I think that my next post will be from yesterday, when I returned to the osprey nest in hopes of getting good images of them.

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