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

Photography tips

And, they’re everywhere

I had already begun this post before I made it out to shoot any more photos, so I’m slipping this in the first part of this post. My last post contained mostly photos of snowy owls, and I’m afraid that this one will also. That’s because of how many have arrived in this area, Wednesday, the 22nd, was my first day off from work in eight days, and when I went to Muskegon, I found five different snowy owls there.

The bad thing about that is so many people are going there to see and photograph the snowy owls, that it is becoming a zoo, with people chasing the owls around to get photos of them. I’m going to start with the last image that I shot, because it’s my favorite, even though I have what most people would consider to be better photos of the owls.

Snowy owl

That owl landed close to me after it had been chased from where I had been shooting it earlier. I could see that the zoo was coming to where I shot the earlier photos…

Snowy owl

…so I was on my way back to my car when the zoo spooked the owl and it landed near me. It looked up over the rocks at me, I don’t know if it was saying goodbye to me, or asking me to protect it from the zoo, but either way, I love the photo of the owl peeking over the rocks at me.

Now, back to what I had typed earlier.

With so little time to get outside to shoot photos these days, I feel compelled to bring back images that I can post here on my blog. I think that I should be working on refining the techniques that I use, along with learning new ones, such as learning to make good panorama images made by stitching two or more images together. I most certainly should have tested the portable hide that I purchased last spring, but still haven’t used yet. I did think about getting it out when photographing the snowy owls seen in my last post, but I didn’t want to spook the owl that I saw first that was perched in such a good location, nor did I want to look silly while in a group of people when shooting the second owl of the day.

The reality is that I have such a limited amount of time to spend outside with the camera, that I’ve been ending up with posts which are overloaded with one species of birds lately. One post had too many great blue herons, then there was the post with too many images of bald eagles, and the last post had too many images of snowy owls. In my defense, part of the reason for the lack of variety in my posts lately has also been because the majority of species of birds have flown south for the winter. It’s more difficult to shoot a variety of birds when there’s a limited number of species around. And, part of the reason for the lack of variety is my desire to shoot more images that I may be able to sell as prints. I’m much more likely to sell a print of a bald eagle or snowy owl than I am to sell one of a chickadee, but you never know about that. It’s all what catches some one’s eye.

Also, there’s the fact that due to the summer drought, an extended warm spell and the drought continuing into October, this years fall foliage photo opportunities were a bust. Many trees dropped green leaves this fall, and just as many trees turned directly to brown before dropping their leaves.

Then, there’s my new job. I’m not sure if this is going to work out or not. Three days this week, I started work between one and two A. M., today, I’m starting at 4:15 P. M. Then, it’s back to 11:30 P. M. for a start time. So that I can adjust, they gave me the equivalent of an extra half day off from work, but that means that I’m working six days a week to make any money. And, on the one day that I do get off from work, I’ve been stuck doing household chores and trying to adjust my sleep pattern for the coming week.

When I interviewed with this company, I specifically asked if they switched the schedule around on drivers like that, and of course they told me no. That was obviously a lie, because my scheduled start times have been all over the place the after the first week that I was there.

In defense of the person doing the scheduling, I am the rookie, and therefore, I’m being used to fill holes in the schedule, rather than having a set schedule as the drivers who have been there longer have.

As it’s worked out, when I have been able to get out to shoot any photos, it’s been raining, and I haven’t had much time even when I do get out.

On the plus side, my legs are beginning to get into better shape because I load and unload the trailer at most stops that I make. I’m not just sitting in the truck for 10 or 12 hours a day. With the poor circulation that I have in my legs, they need exercise on a regular basis, and my old job left no time for that.

Since I’m on the subject of my job, there’s one more rant that I have to go off on, and that’s dealing with the Post Office and the ridiculous schedules that they have.

The way that the Post Office’s schedule is, I’m supposed to be a specified loading dock at a specified facility at a specified time, all based on the assumption that the branch that I’m at has the outgoing mail cued up near the specified dock, waiting to be loaded. In practice, it doesn’t work, as I’ll show up at the right dock at the right time, only to find that there’s still a truck parked there, so I have to wait until that truck leaves. Usually, the truck at the dock when I arrived is running late for one reason or another.

Then, when I do get parked at the specified dock, I find that the mail hasn’t been cued up yet, and I have to wait until postal employees bring it out from the processing area to the loading dock. My schedule shows a tiny window, often ten minutes or less, for me to load the trailer and secure the load, based on the mail being there waiting for me. All too often, I don’t begin to load the trailer until my scheduled out time is drawing near.

None of that matters to the postal employees that record a driver’s in and out times, if the last cart full of mail makes it to the dock before my scheduled departure time, then I can be marked as late to depart if I don’t get it on the trailer and secured before the scheduled departure time. The reason is, that the Postal Service can also reprimand the employees at the branch if they are the reason that the mail is late to depart, or arrive at its destination. So, since they risk getting in trouble, they cut the drivers no slack at all as far as following the schedule. If they do hold me up 15 minutes after my scheduled departure time, then I get a “get out of jail card”, known as a late slip, but they are loath to hand them out, because doing so makes them look bad, and open for reprimand. The one exception to that is when the processing department is to blame for a late departure, then the dock workers are all too eager to print out a late slip.

Compounding that problem is the fact that we often have two or three stops at different branches, so we have to get the mail for the last stop loaded on the trailer first, with the mail for the first stop on the rear of the trailer, because we don’t have the time to sort it out at the stops we have to make.

What often happens is that because they are in a hurry to get the mail on the dock in time, it’s a mixed up mess with the various stops all mixed together, which I have to sort out as I load the trailer. I must be getting better at it, since I haven’t heard about being late the last few weeks.

Anyway, back to photography and my photos. Having typed what I had so far, and trying to avoid the zoo, I shot a few landscape photos with the recently purchased 16-35 mm L series lens just to get more used to it, and to test it out more. I didn’t have great light, nor scenes that would wow people, but I’m extremely happy with the results that the lens produces.

A little color on a grey day

And, it felt good to explore landscape photography again rather than just chase birds around.

Looking down the road

Nothing special, but they do serve well as test shots to see how well that the new lens does, and as I said, I’m very happy with it. It’s definitely a step up from the 15-85 mm lens that I was using.

Back to the owls, they really were everywhere, here’s two of them perched on top of power poles to escape the zoo.

Two snowy owls in one shot

Not a very good photo, but how often does one get a chance to include two snowy owls in the frame at once? You can also see how one is much lighter than the other, which is one way to identify individuals.

I did attempt to photograph other species of birds, here’s a pair of male buffleheads, but I really needed more light to bring out the colors of their heads.

Male bufflehead ducks

I also worked very hard to get bad images of the snow buntings that I saw.

Snow bunting

There was a large flock of the snow buntings, there must have been 200 of them in the flock, flying from place to place. They never stay in one place for very long, a few seconds at the most it seems.

Snow bunting

It could be that the snow buntings are always on the move because there’s a peregrine falcon lurking about.

Peregrine falcon

If only I had better light for that one, same as in my last post.

I feel better now, I was able to make it out two days in a row, and even had a little filtered sunlight on the second day. The reason that I was able to get out for the second day in a row is because my schedule at work is flip-flopping again, going from starting in the morning to starting late at night again, but I’ve whined enough about that.

I was able to get another explosive take-off by a mallard, showing how much water that they displace as launch themselves into the air.

Male mallard take-off

It takes a great deal of power to move that much water, and he’s a pretty duck as well.

Male mallard take-off

I was also able to get a few good photos of a male northern shoveler in flight, although he hasn’t molted back into breeding plumage completely yet.

Northern shovelers in flight

I wish that I could post a larger version of that first one, as it really shows the beautiful colors of the shoveler’s wing.

Northern shovelers in flight

I have to say it again, the 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens is so good that my images of birds in flight are sharper than I could get of perched birds with any of my other lenses that I have been using. I absolutely love the 400 mm lens, so much so that some of the snowy owl portraits were shot with it, then cropped, rather than using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender.

In my indoor testing last winter, the 400 mm prime lens showed itself to be sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, alone, with the 1.4 X extender, and especially with the 2 X extender. In the field, I haven’t tried the 2 X extender on the 400 mm prime lens, as it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. But, I found one of the resident eagles that I shot so many photos of a few posts ago, and I decided that it was time to test the 400 mm lens with the 2 X extender.

Bald eagle, manually focused at 800 mm

The 7D Mk II can’t auto-focus through the viewfinder when using the slow 400 mm f/5.6 lens and 2 X extender to get to 800 mm, so I took a great deal of time getting the focus correct for that image manually. Then, I switched to live view focusing, which the 7D can do with the same set-up, and I shot this one.

Bald eagle, live view focusing at 800 mm

The 400 mm prime lens with the 2 X extender out performs the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X extender, needless to say, I was impressed. The more that I use the 400 mm prime lens, the more that I want to use it for everything because of how sharp it is. If there had been more light, the results would have been even better. The eagle hung around long enough after I shot those to give me time to review them, then remove the extender for this one.

Bald eagle in flight

That one was cropped a lot more, but it’s still sharp, and I was able to get the shot.

I also used the 400 mm lens for this one.

Ripples at sunrise

Now then, back to the snowy owl, the one that peered over the rocks at me as I left. I had walked down to get close to it, and spent some time photographing it long before the zoo arrived. The zoo was busy chasing two other owls up and down the center dike at the wastewater facility, leaving me alone with this owl.

Snowy owl

You can see that it wasn’t afraid of me, it even walked closer to me on its own a couple of times. When it did, I’d back away in case it decided to fly, as it would have been too close to me if it did. But, it hung out there with me, allowing me plenty of chances to get good photos. I wasn’t quite ready when it yawned, so I had to throw the camera up to my eye quickly when it did.

Snowy owl yawning

I was trying to shoot and move the camera to get a better composition at the same time, never a good thing, for this next one is a bit soft due to motion blur.

Snowy owl yawning

I was also able to get a better photo showing the owl’s huge feet covered in feathers as it walked.

Snowy owl

They are very slow, deliberate walkers, and are usually looking down at the ground as they walk. Still, I like that one, you can see its very sharp but rather dainty claws very well along with the feathers covering their feet to keep their feet warm in the snow. Those large feet act as snowshoes when there’s snow on the ground, allowing the owls to walk on top of the snow rather than sink into it.

That last one was shot as the zoo approached the owl and myself, so I had already begun to walk back to my car, I looked back, and sure enough, the zoo had gotten so close that the owl couldn’t stand it, and it flew towards me.

Snowy owl in flight

Sorry, not very good, I was rushed to get any photo of the owl, and it dropped down below the top of the dike and out of view just after that. I was thinking that it was going to work out that way, which is why I had begun to walk away in the first place. But, I was still on the west side of the dike to give the owl space, my plan had been to cross over to the east side after I had put more distance between us.

I could go on at length about the zoo chasing the snowy owls, but I’ll give you just one example of what I’m talking about. There was a guy standing on the passenger seat of a SUV with his upper body protruding through the moon roof of the vehicle as he held his camera. There was a woman driving the SUV, with the guy giving her directions as to when to stop and when to move, and what direction to turn. They were the lead vehicle in a train of vehicles following the snowy owls around, I guess to get photos of the owls in flight, for they always approached the owls until they flew.

Well, I lied, I have another example to share. On the second day there at the wastewater since my last post, I avoided the owls and the zoo as much as I could except for one short period of time. As I was looking for other birds to photograph, I saw that some one who I speak to often when I see him there was parked a reasonable distance from a snowy, shooting photos from time to time. I was coming from the opposite direction, so I parked a little bit farther away from the owl than he was, hoping that any one else approaching from my direction would have the good sense to also stop and allow the other guy his chance of getting a good photo. It didn’t work, some jerk in a pickup truck drove around me, and right up to the owl, chasing it down into the rocks along the dike. I’m sure that the other photographer that I speak to often was fuming at that. My only hope is that the owl moved down into the rocks before the jerk in the pickup got any good photos of the owl.

The thing is, that if you take your time and approach the owls correctly, you can get quite close to them, and get photos like this.

Snowy owl

I spent most of the time that I was shooting the owls down on my knees, or even sitting on the ground so that I could get photos without a distracting background, while especially the guy standing in the SUV was shooting down at the owls, so even if he got a little closer, I doubt that his photos were as good because of the angle he was shooting at.

I suppose that mot people don’t have the patience to do what I did, my biggest problem was that the owl I was hanging out with kept walking closer to me, so that I kept moving back away from it in case it decided to fly. The zoo may have gotten photos of the owls in flight, but always of the back of the owls, because they always flew away from the zoo.

I guess that at least a few of the owls have gotten tired of the zoo chasing them all the time. There had been five of them there at the wastewater facility on the two days that I was there last. From the most recent reports that I’ve seen, only one remains, the other four have moved to a different area where they’re left alone, at least I hope so.

Anyway, I’m going to end this post with another leftover from earlier this year.

Remembering spring

That was shot back in May, and I don’t remember what species of flowers they are, sorry.

Anyway, I was notified via voicemail that I have tomorrow off from work. The message came by voicemail because I had already gone to bed in case I did have to work, so needless to say, I wasn’t able to plan anything for tomorrow, or today for that matter. Had I known in advance that I wouldn’t have to be back at work until 2 A. M. Friday morning, I would have been able to get out with the camera for two days, rather than one short one. Oh well, I was looking for a job when I found this one, and I still have recruiters hounding me from some of the other companies that I checked out before taking this job.

Also, for the second straight week, I’ve worked eight days in a row before a day off, but still haven’t gotten close to 40 hours in for the week. That’s because I’ve been doing all short runs of between 5 and 7 hours long. If this continues, I’ll be forced to find another job, because while this employer pays well by the hour, if you don’t work many hours, you don’t make any money.  I like not working 10 to 14 hours a day as I did on my last job, but this is ridiculous.

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

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They’re back

Well, it’s been a while since I had any time to be outside with a camera lately, compounded by the fact that there hasn’t been any light to work with the past few weeks. I’m sure that as the winter progresses, and West Michigan is under nearly constant lake effect clouds, that you’ll all tire of hearing me whine about it. So far though, we’ve been lucky with only trace amounts of snow, it’s been mostly mist or rain coming from the clouds.

So, on Monday, the 13th, I was overjoyed to have a few hours of time to run over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to shoot a few photos when it wasn’t raining for a change. The big news is that the snowy owls have arrived from up north already, I saw at least two, possibly three different ones, here’s the second one.

Snowy owl

There were four of us parked near the owl shooting photos of it from time to time, including an older woman using a Nikon 600 mm lens on a tripod. The owl didn’t seem to mind at all, as it just sat there paying little attention to us. There were even a few breaks in the clouds from time to time, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Snowy owl

While snowy owls are active during the day, the brighter the sunlight is, the more that they squint, hiding their beautiful yellow eyes as you can see. However, the sunlight does help to bring out the details in their faces, even if they do squint.

By the way, snowy owls spend most of their time above the Arctic Circle, the land of the midnight sun, so they have to be active during the day if they are going to survive in an area where the sun doesn’t set for several months.

Shortly after the second photo was shot, another couple joined the group, and they thought that they’d get a little closer to the owl than the rest of us were. That was more than the owl could take, so it flew off to find a safer place to perch.

Snowy owl in flight

That isn’t very good, but it’s the best that I could do with the flight path that the owl took.

That reminds me, the snowy owls come from an area where there are no trees, so they typically perch on the ground, which isn’t the best as far as backgrounds for photos. So, I felt very lucky when I saw the first snowy of the day, and it was perched on a rock above the vegetation.

Snowy owl

I sat there shooting a good many shots of that owl, my biggest problem was the large number of northern shoveler ducks swimming behind the owl at times. It took me a while to get that image, one without a shoveler behind the owl to distract the eye from the owl itself.

You can see blood stains on the owl’s feathers around its neck, it must have recently made a kill and eaten it, and the owl was content to perch there and digest its meal. That image is almost full frame, I didn’t have to crop it very much at all, unlike the first two photos from this post, which were shot from farther away from that owl, and therefore cropped a good deal more.

The first owl kept one eye closed most of the time, which made getting the shot that I wanted even harder, but I did catch it once as it opened the eye that it had closed most of the time slightly.

Snowy owl

This is what the owl looked like most of the time.

Snowy owl

That’s something to keep in mind if you ever see a snowy owl, many of them have a tendency to use only one eye when resting, leaving the other one closed most of the time. In sunlight, they squint through eyelids that are almost closed. I’ve whistled at them, yelled, and even honked my car horn, but none of those things has worked as far as getting a snowy to open their eyes when they don’t want to. And, I’ve seen several with blood stained feathers after they have eaten, so it’s easy to think that a snowy seen with one eye always closed and bloodstains near its face has suffered an injury, but in most cases, it hasn’t, it has just eaten and is snoozing, and will ignore you until you get too close for their comfort.

Or, if you begin to behave as the late arriving couple did as they tried to approach the snowy, they crouched down and tried to stalk the owl when the owl was fully aware of their presence. You can’t behave like a predator when trying to get close to wildlife that already knows you are there, it will make the wildlife flee even sooner than they would have otherwise. In fact, the couple stalking the snowy didn’t make it as close to the owl as some one else in the group was already parked, they made it as far as in between my vehicle and the one of the person that was shooting the owl when I spotted it.

By the way, I parked 100 yards or so away from where the other person had parked, until I saw them motion me forward. I gave him time to get the best photos that he could, a little common courtesy goes a long way in the birding world especially bird photographers. It helped that I had already shot a snowy from even closer, and with a better background, but there’s no excuse for spooking wildlife that some one else saw first, and are trying to photograph. When the other photographer motioned me to join him, I still parked 20 to 30 feet behind him as to not crowd the owl too much.

The couple in question weren’t equipped properly as far as camera gear, which is why they tried getting closer. The female was using Canon gear, and had what looked to be a 70-200 mm lens on her camera, not a long enough lens for serious bird photography in most cases. The male was using a Lumix DSLR with what appeared to be a similar length lens as the female was using. I’ll cut them some slack, they were young and probably hadn’t learned not to attempt trying to be stealthy when the subject is aware of your presence.

Since there had been four of us there, standing and chatting between the first photographer’s vehicle and mine, it had to be the late arriving couple’s actions that spooked the owl, since they didn’t get more than a few feet closer to the owl than the group was to begin with. Like I said earlier, snowy owls are birds of the Arctic tundra, and both of the owls that I photographed probably hatched this spring and were this year’s young, you can tell by the dark barring that they show. The adult snowy owls are almost entirely white. We may have well been the first humans that these owls had ever seen up close in their short lives so far. They may not have any fear of humans, other than a natural fear of creatures larger than themselves, but all wildlife learns the ways of predators at an early age, like a predator trying to remain hidden as it approaches possible prey.

Because of the hours that I’ve been working, I haven’t had much time outside, but I have had time to think about things and equipment that will improve my photographs in the future. The 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter behind it gives me a good deal of reach, as the photos of the snowy owls show. However, the auto-focusing of that set-up is very slow, often too slow to catch smaller birds as they flit about. So, I thought back to when I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, otherwise known as the Beast, as I remember quite well how quickly it can auto-focus on small birds trying to hide.

I was thinking of purchasing the newer Sigma 150-600 mm lens for times when I was chasing smaller birds such as warblers and sparrows. Using Lightroom, I went back through all the photos that I shot while using the Beast on the 7D Mk II camera that I have now, and took a good hard look at the quality of the images. Those simply can not compare to the image quality that I’m getting now with my current Canon L series lenses. I can’t see the same level of detail in even the best images shot with the Beast that I see in my current photos, even when those older photos were shot in very good light. As the level of light falls off, the Canon L series lenses out perform the Beast by even a wider margin. As bad as these are, if I had been using the Beast, I probably wouldn’t have been able to salvage them in Lightroom.

Peregrine falcon at sunrise

Not great, so I moved in even closer.

Peregrine falcon at sunrise

The second one was shot at ISO 5000, which is higher than I can get a very good image at using the crop sensor 7D Mk II. Still, it’s far better than I could have ever hoped for if I’d been using the Beast to get the same image. Because of the high ISO setting, there isn’t the resolution in those images that I’d love to get, or that I do get when shooting in better light with the equipment that I have now. In the past when I was using the Beast, I had the camera set to limit the ISO to 3200 or less, it’s only been since I’ve been using the Canon L series lenses that I’ve set the camera to use higher ISO settings. You simply can’t beat good glass, no matter what camera you’re using.

So, I have given up the idea of purchasing a replacement for the Beast, no matter how slow the auto-focusing of what I’m using now is. I’ll just have to work harder when I’m shooting smaller birds, and live with the slow auto-focus. There may be times in the future when I dig the Beast out again when I’m on a trip dedicated to photographing smaller birds, and live with the lower quality of images that it produces. That’s what I did two years ago when I was on my last real vacation, I carried the Beast when I was chasing small birds, and used the Canon lens while I was in areas where larger birds were the likely subjects of my photos.

I knew this was going to happen. We had a summer and early fall with above average amounts of sunshine here in West Michigan this year, and as a result, I was able to shoot my best images ever of many species of birds. Now that the clouds have set in for the winter, I feel the need for a full frame camera body again. The reason being is that you get less noise and better resolution at the same ISO setting with a full frame camera as you do with a crop sensor camera at the same settings. Lenses aren’t going to change that, although better lenses do result in better images.

And, there’s been another factor to consider as well, weight. I had convinced myself that I could get by with the 7D and then add another lens or two to my arsenal, and manage to carry them all. However, between the low-light situations I’ve had for the past month or more, and the thought of carrying more lenses with me all the time, I’ve decided that the best course of action is to splurge for a good full frame camera and just one more wide-angle lens for it to complete my kit once and for all.

With a full frame body, I can get by with the 16-35 mm lens that I recently purchased, the 24-105 mm lens to go with it, along with the 100-400 mm lens that I have now. If I stick with the 7D body, I’d need to carry two or three more lenses to cover everything as far as focal lengths because of the crop factor of the 7D. I like the idea of getting by with just two camera bodies and two lenses 70% of the time while hiking.

That’s because with the crop sensor 7D, the 16-35 mm lens is about the same as the 24-105 mm lens on a full frame camera at the short end of the focal lengths of those lenses as far as their angle of view, which translates into how much of the landscape they will allow you to see while using them.

At 16 mm on the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens is the equivalent of a 24 mm lens on a full frame body. I can get most landscape images that I’d like to get, but there would be times that I’d want to go even wider, meaning adding another lens to my kit. Going the other way, there’s too much of a gap between 35 mm and 100 mm to get by with most of the time when shooting landscapes and even some other subjects, so I still need a lens to fill that gap. Enough of that, back to the weather and the birds.

And like I said, for the past month or more, it’s been raining most of the times that I’ve had a chance to get outside, meaning I’ve been shooting in low-light situations for the past month. This photo is from my previous trip to Muskegon, in the rain, when I only shot two species of birds due to the weather.

Herring gull portrait

That image hasn’t been cropped at all, I got that close to the gull. For the second image of the peregrine falcon from earlier in this post, I had to turn the camera to the portrait orientation to keep the entire falcon in the frame. For some reason, wildlife allows you to approach closer in low-light situations than they normally do on nice days. It was the same with this northern shoveler, the second species from the earlier trip to Muskegon.

Male northern shoveler

I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever been closer to a northern shoveler, and it was on a rainy day with no light to work with. That was a let down, as you can almost see the details in the shoveler’s bill. Their bill has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water. So, along with the muted colors, I also missed getting a shot of a part of a duck’s anatomy that I’d like to be able to show people who aren’t familiar with that species.

But, getting back on track, I have to face the reality that wildlife photography means working in low-light situations often enough to warrant the expense of a full frame camera. There’s no getting around that fact in any way that I know of, and it’s about the only way that I’ll be able to improve the technical aspects of my images. I’ve reached the financial limits of my ability to purchase a longer lens, which wouldn’t help as far as working in low-light anyway.

I’m not saying that the images that I shoot in good light are perfect yet, but they are still improving, which is a good thing. As much as I complain about the low-light performance of the 7D Mk II, it’s the images that I shoot at high ISO settings that are showing the most improvement. Those, and birds in flight, this was the year that I got the 7D dialed in and learned to use the 400 mm L series lens to good effect to get my sharpest and best images of birds in flight.

That takes me back to the first snowy owl that I saw, the one perched nicely on a rock above the vegetation. It didn’t take off because I got too close to it, it took off because a pair of crows began to harass it. I missed the first part of the action because I wasn’t expecting it, but the owl only flew a short distance away, then landed again. I shot a short burst as the snowy landed, but it was really too far away for me to post any of the photos. But, even though these aren’t great, I post these of the crows following the owl to land near it to continue their harassment of the owl.

American crow harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

Not wanting to scare either the owl or the crows away, I moved a little closer to watch what was happening and let them calm down a little. As I sat in my new location, I spent some time shooting northern shovelers that were getting nervous because of the owls presence.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Every once in a while, one of the crows would attempt to drive the owl away. This series was shot from too far away also, but they do show what was going on.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

From time to time, the owl would bark at the crow as it approached…

American crows harassing a snowy owl

…and the owl tried to keep both crows in sight all the time…

American crows harassing a snowy owl

…but when that wasn’t possible, it would turn its head back and forth quickly to make sure that the second crow wasn’t planning a sneak attack while the owl was distracted by the flying crow.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

With the three of them preoccupied with each other, I finally moved closer for these.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crow harassing a snowy owl

 

American crow harassing a snowy owl

Funny thing, when I tried to get even closer for a good shot, it was the crows that I spooked first, and they took off, followed by the owl. Of course I fired off a burst of the three of them flying away from me, but the images of three birds flying away from me aren’t that interesting.

I also shot poor images of two other species of ducks, this gadwall,

Gadwall

and this hooded merganser.

Male Hooded merganser

I’ve posted very few images of either of those species recently, as they are both much more skittish than other species of waterfowl.

Anyway, I’m going to finish this post with an image from last summer, when there was good light.

Cabbage white butterfly

One last word about the weather here. Since the drought broke back in the middle of October, we’ve been getting almost two inches of rain per week on average, and are closing in on having gotten a foot of rain since then. It’s hard to shoot good photos when it’s raining all the time.

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


Chalk up another one

Because of my new job, I haven’t been able to make it out to shoot many photos over the past two weeks. I don’t want to bore every one by going into detail, but it’s been mostly because I’ve been trying to take it easy on my legs. At many of the stops for my new job, I have to unload and/or load the trailer myself, and I’ve found out just how out of shape my legs were for such work.

Also, there’s been the weather. We’ve had a rare drought this summer and fall, but as often happens, when the drought broke, it did so by swinging to the other extreme. The first half of October was as dry as it’s been all summer, with hardly a drop of rain, and plenty of sunshine. Once the rains came, they’ve stuck around and refuse to leave. We’ve now set the record for the most rain ever in the month of October, with almost all of it coming during the past two weeks. In fact, we’ve gotten more rain in the last two weeks than the months of June, July, August, and September combined, over ten inches.

Despite the rain, I did run over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Sunday, just to get out of my apartment for a while, to see what I could find, and to stay in practice. It was a lucky day for me, for as I was about to leave, I noticed what I thought was a northern harrier flying right along the side of the road. I fired off a couple of bursts of photos, as I did, I noticed that while the bird I was shooting was about the same size as a harrier, and that it hunted much as harriers do, it had a different shape than a harrier. It was a short-eared owl out hunting in the rain.

Short-eared owl in flight

I was also very lucky in that it thought that there was something in the bushes that you can see behind the owl, and so it circled the bushes several times, giving me many opportunities to photograph it.

Short-eared owl in flight

That was good, because even my Canon 7D was having trouble focusing on the owl as dark as the day was, and in the rain. I have a few shots were the camera focused on raindrops that were closer to me than the owl.

Short-eared owl in flight

But, I was able to get enough fair shots of the owl to include in a post in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Short-eared owl in flight

Since I’m two-thirds of the way through the list of species of birds seen in Michigan, the rate at which I’m finding new species has dropped off to almost none of late. So, it was great to be able to cross another species off from the list of species that I still need photos of.

I have to say it, the Canon 7D Mk II with the 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens made those photos possible. Great equipment may not guarantee great images, but, equipment such as I have now, makes photographing in tough conditions possible. Shooting on a dark, dreary day, in the rain, and I was able to get photos good enough that there’s no mistaking the short-eared owl for any other species of bird. I was even able to catch the color of the owl’s eyes.

However, because it was so dark that day, sensor noise was an issue in most of the photos that I shot at the high ISO settings required.

Bald eagle

I was able to remove most of the noise by using Lightroom, but then the sharpness of the images suffered too much, so I left most of the noise there.

Bald eagle

A few people have commented on the expressions on the birds’ faces in the images that I post here, so I thought I’d show how I’m able to get those expressions. It’s by shooting many photos of the same bird when I can, then selecting the one image that I like the best.

Bald eagle

In this case, I posted three photos of the same bird, since it was a slow day, and also so that you can see how the position of a bird’s head makes a great deal of difference in an image. It’s always best if the bird has its head turned toward you as you photograph it rather than looking away from the photographer, so I included both a left and a right profile, along with a photo of the eagle staring straight at me. You may not believe it, but you can feel the stare of a raptor when it’s looking straight at you, even through the camera. I didn’t include any of the photos that I shot while the eagle was looking away from me, I should have, just to illustrate how much of a difference the position of the bird’s head makes.

One of my next goals is to learn how to shoot better videos. I am getting better as I learn what settings to use, but my videos still look “choppy”, and I’m not sure why that is. Here’s a female northern shoveler that I filmed a few weeks ago.

At one point, you can see her stop for a drink, a little later, it looked to me as if she nabbed an insect flying past her out of the air. While this video is much better than some of my earlier attempts, I need to refine the camera settings along with my techniques to give the videos that I shoot a more polished look to them. On the positive side of the ledger, I’m getting better with Canon’s dual pixel AF auto-focus tracking of the subjects that I shoot. I shot several videos of the shovelers in action, and I was able to keep the subject in focus for the duration of the video in all of them. That is a step forward. On one of the cold, snowy days that’s coming all too soon, I need to sit down with the camera manual to learn how to adjust all the settings for video.

There are times when still photos are the best way to show people the things that I want, as when this male northern shoveler decided that it was bath time.

Male northern shoveler

That was shot in the rain, better lighting would have turned that into a good photo. I don’t think that a video would show how the shoveler had a water helmet covering its head as it came up for air. Still photos are also better for showing the duck’s beautiful colors on its wings.

Male northern shoveler

Along with the colors, still photos also show the intricate layers of feathers on the underside of a bird’s wing.

Male northern shoveler

That photo shows that the shoveler has at least 4 bands of feathers on the inside of its wing, from the row of small feathers on the leading edge of its wing, to two layers of flight feathers, with a band of intermediate length feathers in between. You can also see different layers of feathers on the top of his wings, how they all work together in flight is one of the natural world’s true wonders.

You can see the bands of feathers on the underside of the wings of this juvenile herring gull in flight as well, but here the bands show up due to the coloration of the feathers.

Juvenile herring gull in flight

These next few images are nothing special, other than they show birds doing what comes naturally to them, flying.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Northern shovelers in flight

With ducks, I think that they look their best while flying, it’s then that you can see how beautifully colored their wings are. These would be even better if the males had regrown the green feathers on their heads.

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Switching gears slightly, here’s another example of how birds differ, look at the size of the feet of this American coot.

American coot

Although they are distantly related to ducks, you can see that coots don’t have webbed feet as ducks do, but the feet of coots are very large, which they use to their advantage as they propel themselves through the water. The very large feet also allow them to walk in very soft mud without sinking in.

American coot

My other saved images from the past few weeks were my feeble attempts to find some bright fall colors around here.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall

All three of these are of the same small stand of trees, but shot at different angles and focal lengths.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall 2

I wanted to take a trip up north for a weekend to search for more color, but the new job didn’t allow for that.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall 3

For the first two weeks at the new job, I had only one day off from work which I spent on household chores for the most part. For my third week there, I did get two full days off, but I had to go from working days to working nights, so I had to change my sleep pattern as much as I could during that weekend. I also did overnight runs, so I lost some time because of that.

Well, another wet, chilly weekend has passed. Once again, I had to change my sleep pattern around for work, as I’ll be starting this morning at about the same time that I finished on Sunday morning. Luckily, it isn’t as hard to change in the direction required this time, so I was able to make it to the wastewater facility for a day. Not that it mattered much, for the weather pattern refuses to change, and it continues to be chilly and wet.

Also, there aren’t many different species of birds around, even though I saw literally thousands of ducks and geese during my time at the wastewater facility. You’d think that with so many birds around that I’d find it easy to get good photos, but that wasn’t the case. For one thing, the storage lagoons have been drawn down due to the drought earlier this year, along with the fact that they always lower the water level in the fall to make room for water coming in over the winter months when it’s below freezing. With the water level so low, it puts many of the ducks out of range for a good photo in the first place. On top of that, most of the ducks are in their fall plumage yet, like this ruddy duck.

Ruddy duck

The same applies to this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

I spent a little time working on shooting videos, hoping to produce better ones than my past efforts. I think that they are improving.

The rocks and weeds in the foreground are no-nos, but I think that the video of the northern shovelers in one of the feeding frenzies is the best that I’ve done yet. It helps that there was very little wind at the time, I also used my auxiliary microphone which I should do more often, as it produces much better sound than the one built into the camera. I also learned to use a lens with image stabilization when shooting video, and which of the three settings for the IS works best for videos, as this one is the smoothest that I’ve shot so far.

Here’s a close-up still photo of one of the feeding frenzies.

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

My last post had too many great blue herons in it, this one is going to end up with too many bald eagles. I didn’t even bother to photograph the first eagle that I saw, because it was the same eagle in the same tree as the eagle in the first part of this post. A little later, I spotted this eagle, and decided to shoot it just to get some type of photo for the day.

Bald eagle

I missed him when he flew off, but he flew across the lagoon to join his mate.

Bald eagles

Since the two of them sat there and posed for me, most of my photos from the day were of the two of them together.

Bald eagles

I believe that the female is on the left, and the male is on the right, as with most species of raptors, the females are larger than the males. You can also see that the shape of their heads are slightly different, I don’t know if that has to do with the sex of the bird, or if it’s an individual difference. Either way, it is a way to tell individual eagles apart at times.

Bald eagles

It was nice of the two of them to stick around and let me photograph them for as long as I did. On the other hand, this whitetail buck wanted only to get away when I spooked it.

Whitetail buck

I’ve seen very few deer this year at the wastewater facility, and this was one of the few bucks that I’ve seen.

I have one more image of the fall colors to post.

Fall colors

I also have three photos of a northern harrier in flight. This first one was shot with the right set-up…

Northern harrier in flight

…but it wouldn’t turn towards me a for a really good photo.

Later, I saw the same, or possibly another, harrier land very close to me, so I grabbed the set-up for bird portraits, and just as I did, the harrier took off again.

Northern harrier in flight

So, I was shooting with the wrong settings for a bird in flight, but these turned out reasonably well in spite of that.

Northern harrier in flight

But, because of the slower shutter speeds, the last two aren’t as sharp as the first, and the exposure was off a little as well. What you can’t see in the photos is how much harder that I had to work to get the photos that I did with the wrong set-up. That’s the reason that I keep one camera and lens combination set for flying birds at all times, but this harrier didn’t give me the time that I needed to make the switch when it took off unexpectedly.

That’s about it. It’s a Saturday morning, barely, as I finish this one. I’m not sure if I’ll even make it out to try to shoot any photos this weekend, as I think that once again, my work schedule and household chores will preclude it. I’ve been starting work around midnight for the past few weeks, and I will be again next week, which starts tonight. Since I sleep all day, I have to try to stay on this schedule for work. So, I’m not sure how things are going to work out in the longer run. I’ll get back to posting new species to the My Photo Life List project if I’m not able to get any other photos soon.

I almost titled this post into the frying pan because I’m not sure how this new job is going to work out. I don’t want to bore every one with the details, but I hate being a truck driver, but that’s what I’m looking forward to for the next 4 years until I can retire. One good thing about the new job is the money, nearly $100 a week more than my last job, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. I’m only working around 40 hours a week to make that much, which is a lot less than the hours that I had to put in at the old job. But, the hours that I do work are almost all during the night, but that’s subject to change. Anyway, I guess that’s it for now.

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


Selling out?

I’ll admit it, the past few weeks I have been ignoring the smaller birds most of the time and spending what time that I have had outside in search of larger species of birds or other subjects that I think that I may be able to sell a print of. I suppose that’s the downside of having sold a few more prints recently, the upside is that the prints I’m selling help to defray the cost of the ink and paper that I’m using to make the prints.

As always, there more to the story than just sales, I’m learning to become a better photographer by printing out more of the images that I shoot.There’s something about seeing the printed version of an image versus what can be seen on a computer screen that brings out both the best and the worst of an image.

In the past, I would wait until a store would run a sale on large prints, then I would have enough of my images printed to allow me to use the discount that the store was offering. Most of the time, I chose images based on testing out pieces of equipment or certain photographic techniques, rather than choosing images based solely on what I think would possibly sell. With my own printer at home, I’m printing both the test images, and prints that I think may sell. The good thing is that I have fewer prints to test all of the time, so I can focus on printing images that may sell.

As I said before, there can be small flaws in an image that don’t detract that much from an image when viewed on a computer screen, but they can stick out like a sore thumb when viewing the same image as a print. So, by printing more of the images that I shoot, I’m better able to judge when to shoot and when not to, or what settings to use when I do shoot an image.

Also as I’ve said before recently, I’m beginning to visualize what both the onscreen and printed image will look like before I press the shutter release. That was everything when I shot this image from my last post.

Misty morning

At the time that I shot that, it was hard for me not to track the heron in flight, but to remember what I was going for in the overall scene. That’s where visualizing what I wanted the final print to look like, rather than tracking the heron as my first inclination was to do, paid dividends. I suppose that you could also say that I’ve learned not only the correct camera settings, but to trust that I’ve got them correct and to shoot based on that.

It’s not as if nature allows you the chance to for do-overs of you get it wrong the first time. The heron only flew through the scene once of course, and it wasn’t long after that when the ducks decided that I was too close to them, and they took off also. So, I had just a few seconds to get the camera set-up as well as I could, and be ready when the heron just happened to fly the path that it did.

I would have liked to have been able to go a little wider, to catch more of the spider webs catching the early morning light at the top of the image, but then, it may have become too busy, as many of my images are. As it was. I shot several images during the time that the heron was in the frame, then chose that one based on how the heron added to the composition of the image, and the wing position of the heron. I don’t want to brag too much, but that image is good when seen on a computer, but it’s stunning when viewed as a large 13 X 19 inch print. Then, you can see the way that the heron and the ducks caught the early morning light, along with being able to see that the spider webs are indeed spider webs catching that same light.

It does help that I’ve been shooting as many scenes with similar light to learn how to do it, and that goes back to something that I learned from one of the Michael Melford videos that I’ve watched, which is, when you see magic light, shoot what’s in the magic light.

Of course I would have shot that scene whether or not I had any intentions of selling my photographs, but for the past month or so, I’ve been ignoring many of the shorebirds and most other small, rather nondescript birds that I used to photograph if I had the chance. Instead, I’ve been spending more time in search of raptors, watching the swans, and looking for other subjects that may produce a print that I could possibly sell.

There are other reasons as well, it’s the time of the year when most birds look rather plain in their fall plumage, not even the mallards have regrown their mating feathers yet, and they pair off in the fall. I shot a few images of various species of ducks in flight last weekend, and while they are good and sharp, the ducks themselves aren’t that interesting. If it wasn’t for the differences in their bills, it would be easy to mistake many species of warblers for sparrows during the fall migration. Not only does it make identifying the species harder, but it seems senseless to fill a post with nothing but small plain brown birds, even though I used to do that.

Also, I’ve gotten past the point where I feel the need to post as many species of birds as I can find in a day or a weekend, any one who reads my blog regularly knows that I do quite well in tracking down many species of birds on any given day. I could do a species count and include it in my blog posts, but I don’t see any point in doing that either. But, that may be because these days, I’m going for the best possible images, not numbers. I’m not into competitive birding, and reporting more species of birds than any one else, there’s enough other people out there doing just that, and many of them are far more skilled than I. They also include species that they are able to identify by song in their counts. I love to hear birds sing, but it would be difficult to record the songs that I hear in a way that would fit into my blog.

Okay, so another weekend has passed, and although I had only Sunday to get out and shoot any photos. Monday was a busy day getting the final pieces of the new job puzzle in place so I can get started there. More on that in my next post, most likely. I spent most of the day on Sunday at the Muskegon wastewater facility again, shooting what seems to be the same old same old species again. I did stop at a local park on my way home in search of some cackling geese that have been seen there, but I didn’t see any. I did shoot this red-bellied woodpecker…

Red-bellied woodpecker

…and a few of the Canada geese at that park.

Canada goose

 

Canada goose

 

Canada goose in flight

If there’s a downside to having improved my photos as much as I have over the past few years, it’s that it becomes harder all the time for me to settle for the types of photos that I used to shoot. I think that the image of the woodpecker is good, but the ones of the geese are just run of the mill photos, hardly worth posting, or even shooting in the first place. Although, geese are difficult to photograph well because they have the white chinstrap on their otherwise black heads and necks, they do force one to get the exposure just right in the camera.

Earlier at the wastewater facility, I shot too many images of great blue herons…

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron

…because there were so many of them there.

I also sat and watched thee mute swans for a while, hoping to get a great shot of one of them with their wings stretched out as the swan dried them.

Mute swan

Not the greatest lighting, but I was bored, so I shot quite a few images there.

Mute swan

 

Mute swan

 

Mute swan

Since I was sitting there waiting, you’d think that I would have been ready for this.

Mute swan

But, I clipped the swan’s wingtip off. Still, that photo shows the very large chest muscles that the swans have to power their wings. I should go back and dig up an image or two of an egret or great blue heron in flight to show the amount of difference between how those species are built as far as muscle mass when compared to the swans. Swans are much faster in flight than herons or egrets, hence the larger muscles to power those huge wings.

Herons are slow in flight, and do a lot of gliding as they move from one place to another, this may not show how large their muscles are, but it does show that their wings are nearly as large as those of the swans. In relationship to their bodies, the heron’s wings are actually larger than the swan’s wings.

Great blue heron in flight at sunrise

I may have missed the chance to get one of the swans with its wings fully stretched, but I did manage a few other interesting poses.

Mute swan

 

Mute swan

 

Mute swan

Then, there’s the mallards, one of my favorite species of birds.

Mallards at take off

Some other species of waterfowl may need to run across the water to build up enough speed to take flight, but not mallards. They literally explode out of the water as that photo almost shows. I clipped the male’s wing tip, and the female’s head, but that photo does show how the female used her wings against the water to propel her into the air. It also shows the “hole” that she created in the water as she pushed off with her legs. The male cheated, he was standing on the pipe that you can see, so he had only to jump into the air. But, you can see by the spray in this next photo how much water the female was moving as she took off.

Male mallard at take off

I’m going to brag a little here, I love that I was able to get an image that sharp as quickly as the events in this series happened. That’s one of my best images ever of a male mallard as far as showing the details in the mallard’s feathers. Also, the exposure metering system in the 7D Mk II continues to amaze me, as the mallards were in and out of the shade as I shot this series of photos, and the camera adjusted itself quite well as the amount of light changed from frame to frame at close to 10 frames per second.

Mallards in flight

It took some tweaking in Lightroom, but you can see that the female is in full sun, and the male is in the shade, and I was still able to get a good photo.

Another little side note, the male mallard must have synchronized its wing beats to the camera’s shutter, as every single photo in the series that I shot show the male with his wings up. You’d think that at 10 frames per second that I would have gotten at least one photo of the male with his wings on the downstroke, but I didn’t. The reason I mentioned that is because it gives some idea about how quickly the mallards flap their wings on take off. If my camera was shooting 10 frames per second and the male mallard’s wings were in almost the same exact position in every shot, then he must have been flapping his wings at a rate of 10 beats per second. By the way, the shutter speed was 1/2000 second, and there’s still a bit of motion blur visible towards the tips of both mallards’ wings, which also offers a clue as to how fast they flap their wings. The motion blur shows how much their wings have moved in 1/2000 second.

Another thing that you can see in these images is how the mallards reach forward with their wings to “grab” more air, then how they push down and back to both gain altitude, and propel themselves forward as they fly.

What I find truly amazing is how effortless it seems to be for the mallards as they take flight. Think of trying to splash that much water into the air, or move your arms up and down 10 times per second, then you’ll have some idea of the power that even a mallard has in its flight muscles. It’s no wonder that in straight, level flight, they are one of nature’s fastest flyers. Some raptors, such as peregrine falcons, are faster in a dive, but I’ve seen mallards pull away from a peregrine falcon with ease when the falcon wasn’t in a dive.

All of the things that I’ve written here about how the mallards fly are some of the reasons that I’ve been working so hard to improve my bird in flight images. Mankind has always been fascinated by how birds fly, I hope to explain and show through my photos the wonder of their flight.

This maybe the right time to use up a series of photos of a great blue heron landing that I shot earlier this fall.

Great blue heron landing

Landing gear coming down, ready for final approach.

Great blue heron landing

Landing gear fully extended, putting on the brakes.

Great blue heron landing

Touchdown.

It may not be a sign of intelligence per say, but it must take a lot of brain power to control those huge wings and even the individual feathers its wings and tail as the heron fanned its feathers out to slow down, keeping its balance by changing its center of gravity by moving its head, all the while judging speed and distance, along with compensating for any wind at the time. There’s a lot more to a bird’s flight than just flapping its wings up and down, especially during take-offs and landings.

But, the bad thing is that now I’ve really overloaded this post with great blue heron images when there were too many before this last series. So, I may as well throw this one in as well, which shows very well how long a great blue heron’s wings are in relationship to their body, even though I did shoot yet another butt shot.

Great blue heron in flight

It’s been quite a while since I last posted anything, so I’m going to wrap this one up now, and then continue my thoughts on birds in flight in the next post that I do.

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


Too hot to be outside

Well now, you can call me a wimp if you like, but this past week, it’s been too hot for me to spend much time outside. We’ve had our longest, hottest stretch of weather of 2017, and have set record high temperatures the past five days. There may be two more record highs after I start this post if the forecast is correct.

So, I’ve spent some time this last week in searching for a better job, without any success so far. But, I don’t really want to go off on a long rant about how the trucking industry treats drivers, so I’ll leave it at this, I’ve spent a lot of my job search time chasing down false leads and dealing with the spam that came from what I thought were valid want ads.

I also managed to goof up my new printer, I downloaded and installed the latest version of the driver for the printer, and also had trouble while replacing one of the ink tanks since I made my last good print. I don’t know if it is the driver, or because of the ink tank, that the colors are coming out all wrong, but they are. After trying a few more settings and prints, I believe that it has to be a software problem. I tried deleting the Canon software and starting from the disk again, but that hasn’t helped. The troubleshooting guide that came with the printer is useless, which is all too typical these days.

Anyway, I did make it out to the Muskegon wastewater facility last Sunday for a few hours before the heat drove me away.

Red-tailed hawk

Unlike the eagle from the last post, this hawk gave me plenty of warning that it was about to fly, giving me time to switch cameras and lenses to my flying bird set-up.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It was also nice enough to fly the path that it did.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Those were the last images of the day, here are the first, other than a very poor sunrise that I shot only as practice.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I was trying to capture the gulls against the colors in the sky at sunrise, this was the best that I could do.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I really like the first one as far as the gull, but the sky is better in the second. They were shot in very low light, you can tell that from the way that the gull’s pupils are dilated to let more of the dim light in, that seems to make their eye really pop out at you.

It turns out that the printer problems that I was having were due to a clogged print head, and then the playing around to the settings that I did before I printed a test pattern. Note to self, from now on, always print a test pattern first, before making wholesale changes to the settings which had been working. I probably would have done that, if I hadn’t downloaded and installed the latest driver in between print jobs, or had trouble installing the ink tank. It wasn’t the ink tank that I installed wrong that was the problem though, it was another color that had clogged the print head. I’ve learned my lesson, I hope.

I will say this, Canon software is the pits! What I had to go through to find the printer utility that allowed me to print the test pattern, then to do the print head cleaning was beyond ridiculous. I finally found the utilities menu by clicking the quiet settings icon from their terrible software. By the way, I added that here so that I’ll be able to find the utilities again when I need them. Who goes looking for troubleshooting help by looking at the quiet settings?

Anyway, this is the image that I worked so hard on to get it to print correctly.

Reflections

I’d like to be able to say that the image was shot with my new 16-35 mm lens, but it wasn’t, I used the 70-200 mm lens at 72 mm for that image. I absolutely love that lens on the 7D, I wish that I had more call to use it more often.

I know that the image appears to be overexposed and washed out as I’ve presented it here, but that’s because my printer tends towards the dark side, so I’ve begun to lighten the images that I think that I may print more than I would otherwise. I should go back to making a copy of each image that I may print, one for printing, the other for displaying here. So, as a bit of a test, plus the way that the image looks when turned sideways, here’s the same image again.

Reflections, version 2

Now the colors look better, but in the small format here, you still can’t see how sharp the full size image is, you can pick out every leaf on every tree in the large print that I made. I also turned the image ninety degrees because I like the way it appears to be a Rorschach test of sorts in this manner of viewing.

In other big news, I may have a new job soon. I have to go in for a quick driving test, and also a physical for the new employer, but I’ve been tentatively approved as a new hire. This new company has a contract with the post office to transport mail between various post office branches. I’ll get my entire week’s schedule in advance, no more last second phone calls as what happened this morning with the employer that I’ve been with. They must think that their drivers sit around at home all ready to come in at a second’s notice when they call.

The pay is about the same, that’s one of the things about truck driving, different ways of calculating pay. Depending on the employer, you could be paid by the hour, by the mile, or by a percentage of the value of the load. I don’t want to go into detail, but on paper, the new job pays four dollars an hour more than the hourly rate at the company that I have been working at, a sizable increase. However, I usually get runs that pay by the mile, and since I keep the truck moving efficiently, I make much more than the standard hourly rate. However, one of my peeves about my current employer is that they will tack on several hourly stops to the mileage run, meaning I do those stops almost for free.

At the new job, I’ll get paid by the hour no matter what, get time and a half for anything over 40 hours, rather than 50 hours where I currently work, and the insurance is all paid for by the company, I don’t have to pay the insurance out of my check as I do now. In addition, I’ll be unloading and loading the truck myself at the post offices, so the waiting at those stops won’t be as boring as just sitting in the truck waiting for some one else to do that. Plus, it means that I’ll get more exercise, which I could use, since I’ve been gaining weight again while just sitting in the truck at my current employer.

All of that adds to the list of things getting in the way of my getting outside to shoot more photos. I have to renew the lease on my apartment, do everything required to get the new job, fit in doctor and dentist appointments along with prescription refills under my old insurance before I leave the old job, and more.

At least the heat wave that set record high temperatures here for an entire week has ended, and it’s comfortable to be outside again. I should be able to get out to shoot some photos on Sunday, but I think that Monday is booked solid doing the errands that I listed before.

It seems like forever since I shot these, but it’s been less than a week, hard to believe. Also hard to believe is that even more waterfowl have returned to the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

Northern shovelers at sunrise

I’ve been trying to show just how many birds that there are there, with little success. During the summer, there were hundreds of waterfowl there at the wastewater facility, now, it’s thousands of them. That’s part of one flock, and there were several other flocks of northern shovelers as large or larger than that one. I tried for a few photos with the light behind me…

Northern shovelers in flight

…but I’ll have to wait until the males regrow their breeding plumage for a truly good image of one.

Male northern shoveler in flight

One of these days I’ll be in exactly the right position for this type of photo, showing how much water some waterfowl move as the run across the surface of the water to gain speed for take-off. It takes a great deal of effort on the part of the geese to get airborne, they must have very strong legs in addition to their flight muscles to move that much water with each stride.

Canada goose taking off

The only redeeming quality to this one is the fact that I caught the goose with both feet in the air.

Canada goose taking off

I don’t know why I find it humorous to see a goose with its feet in the positions they are, but I do. It’s the same with this one.

Canada goose and great blue heron

I wasn’t going to press the shutter release until the geese behind the heron moved on, but when the one goose spread its wings behind the heron, my mind said shoot. This is the shot that I was going for as waiting for the geese to move from behind the heron for a slightly better background.

Great blue heron at sunrise

The first rays of sunrise were hitting the heron, but it was a dull, lifeless sunrise, so the image isn’t what I hoped it would be.

I also hung around a flock of mute swans for a while, hoping to get the perfect image of one stretching or drying its wings, this was the best that I could do.

Mute swan

I’ve decided that the species of bird isn’t as important as I’ve been making it out to be the last few years, a great image is a great image, even if the subject is a mute swan. Besides, the average person doesn’t know that they are an introduced/invasive species, they think that a swan is a swan, and most people love them even if they are displacing our native trumpeter swans as the trumpeters try to make a come back.

I suppose that you could say that I’m selling out in order to sell a few more prints now and then by going for subjects that are relatively easy to photograph, and that people may purchase prints of. The mute swans fall into that category, as some one is much more likely to want to purchase a print of a swan than even the best image of an American pipit…

American pipit

…or a Lincoln’s sparrow.

Lincoln’s sparrow

There’s still a lot of luck involved in the photos that I do shoot, here’s a perfect example.

Misty morning

That was shot just after I arrived at the wastewater facility this morning. I saw the light, mist, and ducks, and I actually put some thought into how to go about getting the image that I wanted. I would have preferred to have used the 100-400 mm lens and zoomed out a tad, but I had the tele-converter behind that lens in case I had seen a bird or other subject that I wanted to get close to. I’m limited to just the single center focus point with that set-up, which I knew wouldn’t give me the image that I had in mind. I didn’t know how long the light would last, or how long the ducks would stay there, so I thought that I should work quickly. So, I grabbed the bird in flight set-up with the 400 mm prime lens on it. That way, I could move the focus point to the bottom of the frame to be sure to get the closest ducks in focus. I used aperture mode at f/16 to get as much of the scene in focus as I could.Then, I began shooting, and just as I did, the heron took flight to add a little more interest to the scene. I think that it all worked out well.

More luck, I saw a bird flying towards me, which is really a full-time thing there at the wastewater facility, between the thousands of gulls and waterfowl, vultures, starlings, and other species of birds, there’s seldom a time when one looks up and doesn’t see a bird in flight. But, this one was flapping its wings in a pattern that didn’t fit a gull or waterfowl, so I got ready with the bird in flight set-up.

Peregrine falcon in flight

I never expected to see a peregrine where I shot that photo, I was actually looking for a golden eagle that I had seen earlier but lost track of. I suppose that everything worked out for the best, I missed the eagle, but got good images of the peregrine in flight.

I know that I’ve been posting too many images of great blue herons lately, but that’s because there are so many of them this year. Over the last two years I didn’t see that many, yesterday at the wastewater facility, I saw at least 10 individuals. With so many of them around, I can use them to practice on, both for portraits…

Great blue heron

 

Great blue heron

…and bird in flight photos, although the 400 mm prime lens got me too close to this heron as it took off.

Great blue heron in flight

That lens was just right as the heron flew away from me.

Great blue heron in flight

I did crop this next one slightly, not to get closer, but because the heron had lowered its head and I didn’t like the way the image looked, so I rotated the image as much as I could to raise the heron’s head.

Great blue heron in flight

Later in the day, I saw what turned out to be a Cooper’s hawk perched in a tree near me. As I was getting the hawk in focus using the set-up for portraits, the hawk took off. That meant that I had to use the 100-400 mm lens with extender behind it, using just the center focus point, and the lens image stabilization turned on for these three images.

Cooper’s hawk in flight

As you can see, the sharpness of these three photos isn’t up to my new standards for birds in flight.

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Using a slower shutter speed is part of the reason, but I still insist that the image stabilization is the main reason for the loss of sharpness.

Cooper’s hawk in flight

That’s every other image of the series that I shot, the images between those three showed the severe “ghosting” that I see in the images of birds in flight when I use any mode of image stabilization available on any of the lenses that I have that have IS. Both the 70-200 mm and 400 mm prime lens are without IS, and neither of those lenses has ever produced the ghosting that I see in the images that I shoot with lenses that do have IS. I should say, with the IS turned on, as I’ve gotten good, sharp images of birds in flight with the 100-400 mm lens if I have the time to turn the IS off. The same was true of the 300 mm lens and the Beast, if I had the time to turn the IS off, then they were okay for moving subjects, but still not as good as my two non-IS lenses are for some reason. But then, the two non-IS lenses are my sharpest lenses anyway, if I can keep the shutter speed fast enough, or use a tripod as I did with the reflection landscape that I put in this post earlier. I still stay that the extra layers of glass that make up the image stabilization system reduce the sharpness of a lens to some degree. I do turn the IS off when I’m using a lens equipped with it on a tripod, and that seems to work out better than leaving it on.

But, the image stabilization is a life saver when I’m shooting in low light, unless I can use a tripod, as always, there are trade-off to everything in photography.

I’m going to finish this post with a very poor photo of a kestrel…

American kestrel

…because that one wasn’t perched on a wire somewhere as most of the kestrels that I’ve posted have been. There were two kestrels hunting together, and that was the best photo of either of them that I could come up with. They are about the size of a dove, but as wary as any bird that I try to photograph, so getting a good image of one is still something that I’m working on.

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


More of the same

As always, I’m continuing to rethink how I go about shooting the photos that I do. I purchased a portable hide thinking that it would be a great way to get even closer to birds and other wildlife, but I haven’t used it yet. That’s because I have been able to get as close as I wanted to the subjects that I’ve seen since I purchased the hide for the most part…

Least sandpiper

…or, there didn’t seem to be any use in setting it up, as there was nothing in the area to photograph to begin with.

I’ve considered setting up the hide near the bird feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve…

Red squirrel raiding a bird feeder

 

Eastern chipmunk eating food from the feeder that the squirrel dropped

…but even there, I had to get down on my knees to get under a branch that was otherwise in the way to shoot this series of a chickadee eating a kernel of corn it had plucked from the feeder.

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

I take a great deal of pride in the fact that 99.9% of the photos that have appeared here in my blog were shot totally in the wild, not at a rehab facility or zoo, nor at a feeding station of any kind. When I do post such photos, as these last few, I tell every one that they were shot at or near a feeder. Shooting such photos is a pleasant way to spend a slow day when I’m not seeing anything in the wild, and they also show me what’s possible with the equipment that I have. However, I’m usually able to do as well or better in the wild, given enough time.

Chipping sparrow

That was shot on the day that I went to Ionia, Michigan, to photograph the historic buildings there.

I will say this about shooting near the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, most of the time, I get cleaner backgrounds as I can pick and choose when I shoot, whereas when I’m shooting birds in the wild, my photos are more likely to be like the one of the chipping sparrow, with a cluttered foreground and background. The experts want a clean foreground and background, however, in the photo of the sparrow, you can see the type of seeds that it was eating. There’s something to be said for both types of photos. In the clean photos, all of some one’s focus is on the bird itself, while in the cluttered photos, people can gain insight as to the habitat that the bird lives in, and as in the case with the sparrow, what it prefers to eat.

Sometimes, as in this recent image…

Cedar waxwing

…I luck out and get the best of both worlds. The leaves frame the waxwing nicely, without being too busy, that may be as close to the perfect image as I have shot up until this point.

I should break down and set-up the portable hide one of these days just to see how well it works, and how I can best employ it, especially to shoot videos. I would like to shoot more videos, as they show the behavior of birds and other wildlife better than still photos in some ways, in other ways, still photos are better, but I’d like to be able to choose the best method depending on the situation at the time.

The still photos of the swallows from the last post are okay, but a video of that many swallows in flight, showing how they avoid running into each other, and hearing them chattering away to one another, would have been a great companion to the still photos. Maybe I’ll get around to doing that this coming weekend.

However, I still have the new to me 16-35 mm lens to play with more, learning how to make use of it in the best ways, and learning to use the 7D camera for landscapes, rather than the 60D camera that I have still being using for them. That applies to macros as well, I have to use the 7D more often, as it renders superior images than the 60D does. Not by much, but there’s enough of a difference that I can see it well enough as I view the images full screen on my computer, and definitely in any prints that I make.

I think that another weekend of using the new 16-35 mm lens will confirm what I’ve been thinking of doing as far as other new wide-angle lenses for the crop sensor 7D camera. I was planning on purchasing a full frame camera, but those plans have been changed by the poor sensor in the new Canon 6D Mk II, and by the detail that I can see in the prints that I’ve made of images shot with the 7D. Plus, I can make images very close to what people who use the very high-resolution camera can make, if I shoot more panoramas using a very sharp lens. I don’t want to get that far into the technical details involving pixel density or the nodal point of a lens, but it’s pixel density that determines the resolution in the final print, and the pixel density of the 7D comes very close to matching that of the high-resolution full frame cameras.

So, if I were to shoot two images of a scene while zoomed in slightly, then stitch the two images together to form a panorama to show the entire scene in one image, I would come very close to duplicating a single image shot with a full frame camera as far as resolution and details. But, I would have to determine the nodal point of the lens as it is set-up on my tripod to create the best panoramas.

To that end, I’ve reconsidered purchasing Canon’s 24-105 mm lens, as the new version isn’t that much sharper than the old version, and besides, I wanted that focal length for a full frame camera, not the crop sensor 7D. Instead, I’m thinking of saving $200 by purchasing the sharper Canon 24-70 mm lens, knowing that I may well need to carry my 70-200 mm lens at times for landscapes. In a pinch, I could use the 70-200 mm lens as a wildlife lens by using the tele-converters that I already own behind it to make it either a 280 mm lens at its longest, or a 400 mm lens, depending on the extender that I use. It would depend on the situation, if my plan was to shoot wildlife with the possibilities of a landscape photo, then I’d carry the 100-400 mm lens, and skip the focal lengths between 70 mm and 100 mm as it wouldn’t be that big of a deal anyway.

But, if I’m out to shoot landscapes with the possibilities of a wildlife or bird photos, and there almost always is that possibility, I could make do with the 70-200 mm lens and extenders. I used the 70-200 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter to get my best ever image of a bald eagle in flight, so I wouldn’t be giving up much by using that lens.

Shifting gears, I’m learning that an image as seen on my computer doesn’t always make a great print when I print the image to a large size. That’s okay, I sort of expected that from the research that I had done before purchasing the printer. That’s especially true of prints that I sell, I’ve had to tweak every image at least a little after making the first print to get a great print that the potential customer is happy with.

Part of that is because I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to editing my images for my blog, between the small size at which they appear here and the reduced resolution, I don’t have to spend as much time making an image perfect if it’s only going to appear here. When printing images as large as I can, I have to take the time to make sure that every small detail is as good as I can get it, like tweaking the white balance slightly to remove a slight blue color cast in the print, or toning down a slightly over-exposed background. To that end, I’ve been working on refining my skills in Lightroom to make the best possible prints that I can. It seems to be working, as I sold a few more prints this week, and a neighbor has asked me to shoot the photos for her daughter’s senior pictures next year, after she purchased one of the prints that I’ve made.

In one of the test landscape images that I shot last weekend, a turkey vulture was soaring overhead at the time, and I thought that it would make a nice addition to the photo. As seen on my computer, the turkey vulture isn’t that big of a deal, but when I printed the image, the vulture stood out like a sore thumb, an annoying distraction which I could easily remove in Lightroom if the basic image was any good to begin with. Since it was just a test of the new lens, it’s no big deal, but I’ll keep that print to remind myself that I have to work harder to make better prints, and that includes analyzing the scene better before I shoot the image.

I realized yesterday that I continue to discuss photography so much here in my blog is because I’m still looking for answers as to how to go about getting the best images that I can, within the time constraints of still working for a living. This past summer, my work schedule made it difficult for me to be out before sunrise, or after sunset, which is why I haven’t been shooting many landscapes this year. Southern Michigan, where I live, isn’t that conducive to mid-day landscape photos.

I also worry that if I set-up the portable hide, I’ll end up wasting the time that I sit in it unless I do so somewhere that there are tons of birds around, or, unless I were to bait wildlife to assure that there would be something for me to photograph as I sat in the hide.

So, I continue to go to the same places and do the same things whenever I do have the chance to get outside and shoot photos, even though I know I could do better if I were to change things up in some ways. The alternatives would bring with them the risk that I would end up without any photos at all, which I suppose wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Take yesterday, Saturday, for example. I arrived at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve well after sunrise, because I worked very late on Friday due to sitting in a broken down truck for three hours waiting for it to be repaired. But, at least I was able to get my best ever photos of a crow.

American crow

I used other cars in the parking lot to sneak up on the crow as it looked for any bits of food people had thrown out in the parking lot, but I think that it was also eating a few ants from time to time when it found them.

American crow

Of course, it could have been other insects that the crow was eating, as they aren’t fussy about what they eat.

A short time later, I came upon a family of mute swans…

Mute swan family

…I actually shot these close-ups first…

Juvenile mute swan

…as the swans were feeding near the bank I was standing on.

Mute swan

The adult shook its head, resulting in this image.

Silly swan

For the past few years, I’ve been ignoring the mute swans most of the time, because they’re an introduced species here, and because I used to go overboard posting photos of them right after I took up blogging. Now, my thoughts are what difference does it make, if I can shoot good photos of them, then I should go ahead and photograph them. I probably could have stood there for quite a while, shooting even better images of the swans, but I also look for variety of species to photograph.

I saved three other photos from my time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but I’m only going to post two of them. The third was a test of the new lens, and while the image was good for that purpose, that doesn’t mean that I have to post it here. Instead, I’ll go back a week or two to this one instead.

Another almost winner

If I could have reached the vegetation surrounding the yellow arrowhead leaf and removed it all other than that one leaf, that would have been a great image. But, with the other leaves and their reflections, the image is the pits. The test shot that I’m not posting is similar to that one, just too darn busy because I couldn’t get to the exact position that I needed to be in without getting into the water and muck there.

My last two images from the MLNP on Saturday…

Foam, duckweed, and other floating bits

 

Pokeweed berries

I stopped off at the wastewater facility on my way home for these.

Great blue heron

The next ones aren’t great, other than they show the feathers on the heron’s wings quite well.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

I would prefer to photograph birds coming towards me, but I don’t know how to get this view of a bird’s wing if they are coming at me. It’s also a rare thing to be too close to a great blue heron to get its entire wingspan in the photo.

Great blue heron in flight

I also caught one of the juvenile pie-billed grebes in better light than the previous image of I that I recently posted…

Pie-billed grebe

…but it has lost most of the colors in its face that it had when it was younger, however, it was also actively feeding on the surface of the water, and I did catch that.

Pie-billed grebe

 

Pie-billed grebe

It’s now Sunday afternoon, I had thought about going up north, but it wouldn’t have been worthwhile, as by the time that I had gotten to better scenery, it would have been mid-morning already. That’s the same problem that I have every week. If I’m going to travel any farther away from home than Muskegon, then it would have to be for an overnight trip, not just one day.  So, I did the same thing that I always do, I went to Muskegon.

That wasn’t all bad, as I spotted an eagle soon after I arrived.

Bald eagle

Along with another photographer nearby, I sat and waited, and waited, until the eagle decided that it was time to move on. When it did, it didn’t do any of the pre-flight things that a an eagle typically does before take off, it jumped up as if it had been startled by something, even though I didn’t see or hear anything that would cause the eagle to act as it did.

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle taking off

Early morning light is very good for most subjects, but I don’t like the yellow color cast that the light imparted on the eagle’s head, so I adjusted the white balance sightly for this next one, to remove a little of the yellow from the eagle’s white feathers.

Bald eagle taking off

 

Those aren’t out of order, that’s the way that the eagle took off. There were a few more images in the first burst that I fired off, but from the angle between myself and the eagle, the branch in the background that the eagle had been perched on bisected the eagle almost perfectly. While it was behind the eagle, the branch being there still makes those images less than what they could have been if the eagle had chosen a slightly different flight path as it dove to gain speed. I paused shooting for a second or two, so that I wouldn’t fill the camera’s buffer, then fired another burst, with this one being the best of them.

Bald eagle in flight

It’s a good thing that I had time earlier to practice on a gull.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I wasn’t going to put these next ones in this post, but I may as well. I saw a couple of mute swans preening…

Mute swan preening

…so I shot a few photos to show how flexible their necks are…

Mute swan preening

…and how they seem to be able to control their feathers as they preen…

Mute swan preening

…while also trying to get their eye showing while they were preening. But, that wasn’t possible with this pose that the one struck.

Mute swan preening

What I was really hoping for was some wing flapping action, but the one swan was content to do a single wing stretch now and then…

Mute swan stretching its wing

…while the other one turned sideways to me, so this is what I ended up with.

Mute swan drying its wings

 

Mute swan drying its wings

I still haven’t been able to find an answer to my dilemma of how to shoot the things that I’d like to be able to shoot while still holding down a job, but there’s probably no good answer to that, at least not one that I love.

It doesn’t help matters that it was a very hot, humid, and hazy weekend for the end of summer, beginning of fall. I cut the day short on Sunday, and when I arrived home around noon, it was already 81 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C), and the temperature has continued to climb since then. Too hot for me!

The things that I’ve been trying to do to change things around a bit have been working as far as better images, but at the cost of fewer photos of fewer species of birds. It involves sitting around and waiting while watching a bird or birds for the most part, like waiting for the eagle to fly, or waiting for the swans to dry their wings. I like the last photo of the swan drying its wings, but it would have been even better if the swan had turned to face me, or even if it had turned away from me, so that I had been able to get it with its wings fully stretched out.

That’s was what I was waiting for, so I was using the 400 mm prime lens with the camera set to stop motion, as in bird in flight photos. I could have gotten better images of the swans preening if I had been using an extender behind the lens for closer views of the swans as they preened. If I had done that, and then if the swans had given me the full wing display, I wouldn’t have been able to get their entire wingspan in the frame. So, for the most part, the time that I spent with the swans was somewhat wasted, as I didn’t get the image that I really wanted. As I’ve said before, the birds don’t notify me when they are going to do something that will result in a great image, so I don’t have time to switch camera settings or lenses most of the time.

At least with the eagle, I was sitting there holding the camera on it, just waiting for it to take flight. So even though it surprised me when it did take off, all I had to do was press the shutter button. While I would have liked to have been closer, I got some decent images of the eagle taking off, so that wasn’t wasted time. If there hadn’t been the other photographer there, I would have tried setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it for even better images of the eagle taking off. I see and talk to the other photographer often, and just the week before, he told me about an incident where he was waiting for a bird to fly, when a birder walked right in front of him to ask him if he had seen any good shorebirds. Of course, that’s when the bird that the photographer was waiting on took off, so he missed the photos that he had been waiting for. He was not a happy camper that day! That’s also why I wasn’t willing to risk setting up the tripod, I didn’t want to change the eagle’s behavior in any way that would spoil the other photographer’s chances.

And so it goes, there seems to be something in my way every time I think about doing things exactly as I should. Then, I come home and whine about it, and not having the time to do things as I would like to be able to do them. Then, I debate with myself as to whether I’m spending too much time trying to get the best images possible, or if my time would be better spent shooting a wider variety of birds as I used to. Also, I debate with myself whether I’m trying too hard for images of subjects that I think may sell, or if I should forget about selling photos while I’m out in the field, and only think about the things that I see in nature that may be interesting to others, even if a photo of that subject would never sell. That takes me back to the issue of not having enough time to do both. So, around and round I go.

There are plenty of other things dealing with photography that I constantly question myself about each and every time that I’m out with my camera, but I’ve babbled on long enough already.

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


I always think of it later (almost)

Just after I had published the last post, the thought occurred to me that for some reason, I had to learn how to take technically good photos before I could shoot many of the more artistic photos from the last post, even if the artistic photos aren’t as good technically as most of my bird portraits are. I’m talking about the silhouettes of the birds in flight mostly, but that applies to the cornfield and a few others as well. When I first began shooting birds in flight, most of the time the birds were just silhouettes, but the photos that resulted weren’t very pleasing to the eye. Heck, many of my early photos of perched birds were little more than silhouettes and not very good either. But, over time, I learned how to overcome bad lighting most of the time, and there are even times when I take advantage of bad lighting to produce pleasing results.

That goes along with something else that I do more often these days, I visualize how the finished image will appear even before I press the shutter release. Not in the same way that I used to think that every time I pressed the shutter button, a good photo would result, but I’m learning how to visualize what the camera actually sees when I shoot an image these days. That visualization includes any editing that I’ll do to the image later in Lightroom.

That could be the subject of an entire post, learning how to shoot the original image so that the final result when edited later ends up looking the way that I wanted it to look as I was surveying the scene before shooting it. But, I’ll leave that to those who are experts in Lightroom, even though those aspects of photography and editing images are seldom addressed from what I can tell.

There are differences between what our eyes can see, and what a camera is able to record, either on film, or as ones and zeros in the world of digital photography. Our eyes adjust to varying light so quickly without our thinking about it, that we think that our eyes have a much higher dynamic range for light than we really do. It’s the same for focusing, our eyes adjust so quickly that everything we look at seems to be in focus at once. Because we can move our eyes around to take in the entire scene, we see things differently than a camera.

That’s not how a camera looks at all the things in a scene. It sees everything at once, and it can only be adjusted for the entire scene overall, not bits and pieces of the scene as we see it. It’s taken me way too long to teach myself what the camera is going to produce as I survey a scene before pressing the shutter button. For too long, I was attempting to make the camera see what I saw, and that doesn’t work, for the reasons stated above. But, I thought that if I got the camera settings just right, I could force the camera to do what it is really incapable of doing. Yes, I knew that there were limits, but I’ve always been one to push the limits.

In a way, pushing the limits was a good thing, as I now know just what the limits are, and how to get a good image as I approach those limits. That’s how I got the silhouettes of the heron and cranes from the last post to come out as well as they did. In the past, the birds would have been black blobs against a blown out background, but in the photos from the last post, I was able to get enough of the bird’s color so that you can identify the bird, yet it is still silhouetted against the sky or water, depending on which image we are talking about.

Now then, back to visualizing what the finished image will look like before shooting something. That may be the most important thing about photography that I’ve learned to do. Not that I’m a great photographer yet, but I have learned from watching a few videos about Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and other truly great photographers that they didn’t shoot to create a perfect negative in the first place. They shot what they did, how they did, knowing what they would do during both the development of the negative, and the printing process to achieve the final result that they desired. I don’t know how the others did it, but I learned that Ansel Adams kept charts stored with the negatives he shot showing how much dodging and burning that he had to do to various areas of a print as he made it so that future prints would be a reproduction of his original print when some one ordered one of his prints.

That’s really the key to getting better photos, at least it has been for me, being able to look at a subject or scene, and quickly know how to shoot it so that the finished image will look the way that I intended it to look when I shot it.

There’s one caveat to this though, everything that I’ve said about my being able to visualize what the finished image will look like before I press the shutter applies to images shot with my 100 mm macro or longer lenses. I still struggle when I use wide-angle lenses. I hope that will change soon, as I’ve taken delivery of the 16-35 mm lens that I ordered and mentioned in the last post.

I’ve only had a few minutes to play with it so far, but the results are very promising. I shot the apartment building that I live in to test how much distortion the lens has, and the lens is very good in that respect. Buildings are good for testing distortion because they have straight vertical and horizontal lines that can be used to see any distortion. Then, by loading the image in Lightroom, and turning on and off the lens correction profile, I could see that the building’s lines were close to being straight, even without the lens correction applied. The lens does show a little vignetting, that is darkening of the image towards the edges when compared to the center of the image, but I’d have never noticed it if Lightroom hadn’t fixed it when I applied the lens correction.

It’s too soon to tell about how sharp the lens will be once I get used to using it, but it appears to be sharper than the 15-85 mm lens that I have been using.

Petunia

I’m going by the hairs on the petunia bud and leaves to judge sharpness, as I put the focus point on the bud.

Two things about the lens really impress me so far, the overall clarity of the images that I shot, and the color reproduction. The 16-35 mm lens reproduces colors much more vividly than any of my other lenses, it may be better than my 100 mm macro lens in that respect.

Water drops on a leaf

I know, no one else would get excited about seeing green grass or a brown leaf, but those are what struck me as I viewed the image for the first time. Even if the 16-35 mm lens isn’t the sharpest lens that I have, and as I said, it’s too early to judge that yet, great color reproduction and clarity are excellent attributes for a lens meant to be used for landscapes most of the time. Since the lens has minimal distortion, it will be easier to stitch two images together to create a panorama for those scenes when 16 mm isn’t wide enough to capture the entire scene in one image.

Other good points about the new lens, it’s lighter than my old one, and both the zoom action and focusing are all internal. The lens stays the same length all the time, meaning it’s less likely to suck dust or moisture into itself as I zoom in or out, and being a L series lens, it’s weather sealed also.

So, with this new lens, it’s time for me to go out and shoot a few more landscapes than I have been lately, using the tripod and setting everything correctly for the very best image quality possible in order to fully judge what the lens can do. The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend doesn’t bode well for great landscape images though, as the weather is looking too good for that. Bright blue skies with hardly a cloud in the sky is what’s forecast, but for testing the new lens and for practicing seeing through a wide-angle lens, I’ll have to make do.

Switching gears, I have many photos leftover from earlier this summer that aren’t great, but were too good to delete, so I’m going to use a couple of them here so that I can clear room for newer images. The first is a juvenile pie-billed grebe.

Juvenile pie-billed grebe

As you can see, the juveniles show more color than adults of that species do. I was hoping to catch the juvenile on a day with better light so that the color would show up better, but that didn’t happen.

It’s the same story for these eared grebes, the only time that I was able to get close to them was on a dark, dreary day.

Eared grebes

I also have a series of bad images of sandhill cranes in flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I never expected the cranes to take flight coming in my direction, I expected them to go the other way.

Sandhill cranes in flight

That was shot as I was trying to decide which bird(s) to track, it would have been a good shot if I hadn’t cut off their wings.

Sandhill cranes in flight

As they got closer, I couldn’t keep two birds within the frame any longer.

This last one was ruined by a number of things. The crane was so close that I didn’t have enough depth of field to get it all in sharp focus. When even slow birds are that close, one needs to go to an even faster shutter speed to freeze the motion, which I didn’t do. And, I’m sure that I was moving the camera too much for a sharp image. Not only do you have to track their forward motion, but they “bounce” up and down as they flap their wings, and I have to move the camera up and down along with tracking the bird’s path.

Sandhill crane in flight

The weather forecast for this past weekend was spot on for a change, unfortunately in a way, that was a bad thing. I wanted to try out the new wide-angle lens, and I did, but the resulting images are pretty boring for the most part. Here’s a couple of them that I shot.

Foggy sunrise I

The new lens does show a great deal of promise, despite to poor subjects of these photos.

Foggy sunrise II

I’m loving the sharpness of this lens, but even more so, the clarity and color that show in the images that I’ve shot with it so far.

Field of flowers

However, I’m still learning to use the 7D Mk II as a landscape camera. I’ve used the 60D so much that it’s become automatic for me to get it set-up to shoot landscapes, not so with the 7D. I still have to fumble around with the controls, and remember in what ways it performs differently than the 60D as I set it up to shoot landscapes. I’m sure that a few more outings using the 7D, and I’ll get used to setting it up correctly the first time. Once I’m more familiar with setting the 7D up for landscapes, then I’ll be able to put more thought into the exact composition for landscapes that I want rather than concentrating on camera settings. However, the main thing is that the 16-35 mm f/4 lens is a winner, and a noticeable improvement over the EF S 15-85 mm lens that I’ve been using for most of my landscapes the past few years.

The thought just occurred to me, I could see that there are times when the 15-85 mm lens may be a good choice, when I want a more impressionistic image, versus an extremely sharp image. Great, a reason to carry another lens with me, just what I don’t need. On second thought, if the 16-35 mm lens is too sharp for what I’m trying for in an image, I could always soften the image in Lightroom later.

Okay, switching gears, nature isn’t always pretty. Just after I had talked with another photographer on Sunday morning, I noticed a small raptor within a flock of smaller birds. It took me a few moments to stop my vehicle, roll down the passenger side window, grab my camera, and shoot this, just after the raptor had made a kill.

Sharp-shinned hawk? with a swallow

I can’t make a positive identification of either bird, but the poor victim of the raptor is definitely a swallow of some type, I can tell that from its forked tail. Judging from the size of the raptor, I’d say that it was a sharp-shinned hawk, although it could be a merlin. I was able to fire a burst of three photos before the raptor landed with its breakfast. In the other two, you could see that the raptor had a very long tail, one of the identifying features of a sharpie. It’s hard to believe that there’s a raptor agile enough to catch a flying swallow.

I should also add, that the other swallows in the flock were harassing the raptor at first, but gave up when they saw that it was of no use.

Of course I felt bad for the swallow, but it’s the way of nature, and one way to keep a balance between various species in nature. In my last post, I had a photo showing a “wall” of insects, here’s what it looks like when the swallows get hungry.

Swallow feeding frenzy

That was shot with the 400 mm lens, and only shows a small portion of the flock of swallows. I switched to the 70-200 mm lens for this shot.

Swallow feeding frenzy

I tried to set-up to shoot a video several times, but each time that I did, the swallows all pulled up and dispersed, there must have been another predator nearby. That, and I couldn’t get the camera to focus at a point where it would show the entire flock as well as I wanted. But, it was a sight to see, with thousands of swallows all feeding together in such a small area.

By the way, here’s the possible predator that may have been making the swallows nervous.

Merlin trying to land in a bush too small to hold its weight

I had shot the Merlin just before I began shooting the swallows. Here’s a better photo of a Merlin that I had shot on Saturday.

Merlin

That would have been much better if there wasn’t a branch growing out of the Merlin’s head. But, they don’t stick around long enough for me to get into the best position to photograph them.

Merlin in flight

In a similar vein, I saw a flock of grackles…

Common grackles

…and I was going to go for a better flock shot of them all showing their yellow eyes and their colors, when a gunshot from nearby caused this to happen before I could recompose for the flock shot.

Common grackles in flight

Oh well, nobody wants to see grackles anyway.

I did go for a stroll through one of the woodlots at the wastewater facility on Saturday, but the only bird that I could get close to was this blue-grey gnatcatcher.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

The gnatcatcher was one of many small birds of various species that I saw, but migrating birds are extra wary, or so it seems, as I couldn’t get close enough to any of the others for any photos, not even bad ones.

Here’s the rest of the photos from Saturday.

Sandhill cranes in flight

 

Virginia creeper

I was able to get close enough to a great egret that I had to turn the camera to portrait orientation when it raised its head…

Great egret

…then go back to landscape orientation when it lowered its head.

Great egret

It was nice enough to do a few wing stretches for me as well.

Great egret

This red-tailed hawk was calling to another that was circling the same area. I couldn’t tell if they were a mated pair, or if the one on the ground was warning the other to stay away from its hunting area.

Red-tailed hawk calling to another

I also caught a turkey vulture sunning itself to warm up on a chilly morning.

Turkey vulture warming itself in the sun

I tried sneaking up on some sandhill cranes, but this was the best that I could do.

Sandhill crane

I’ll be glad when the ducks have grown their breeding plumage, as it’s hard to tell them apart at this time of year, especially the young ones.

Juvenile hooded merganser

There’s no mistaking a juvenile turkey vulture though.

Juvenile turkey vulture

Well, that’s not all the photos that I have, nor everything that I’m thinking about at this time, but I suppose that this is where I should end this post.

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


I hope that you don’t mind?

Preface: Many of the images in this post will be of a different style from what I usually post, I hope that you don’t mind.

My decision to post less often was a good one, based on the photos that I shot the following weekend. I didn’t get a single very good image, only a handful of so-so images that may or may not appear here. I spent a good deal of time looking for a Hudsonian Godwit which had been seen at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but it had apparently moved on. That’s a species of shorebird that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. It’s also one of the larger shorebirds, so I didn’t check out all of the smaller shorebirds there, which was a mistake. That’s because a red knot, another species that I need photos of, was seen there on the day when I was looking for the godwit. So I missed one species while looking for another.

Having made the decision to upgrade my wide-angle lenses rather than purchase a full frame camera, I have ordered a Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L series lens. I may have well received it and put it to a few tests before I get around to publishing this post. My reasons for ordering that lens first were because the instant rebates offered by Canon were about to expire, and I hope to put that lens to good use this fall as I’m shooting more landscapes of the fall colors.

I know that I’ve written more about wanting the 24-105 mm lens, but that was if I purchased a full frame camera. That lens isn’t as wide as I need for many landscape images if shot on my crop sensor 7D. On the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens becomes a 25.6-56mm lens on a crop sensor body, which is better suited for many of the landscape photos that I hope to shoot this fall. Besides, the 24-105 mm lens is still too new for Canon to offer rebates on it, and I know that they will eventually. I refuse to pay full price, since I know that it’s only a matter of time before Canon does offer rebates.

One of the major factors in choosing that particular lens over others, even if some of the others are a tad sharper and/or cheaper, was the fact that this lens takes 77 mm filters. That’s the same size as my longer lenses, and I already have polarizing and neutral density filters that size. That saves me the money because I won’t have to purchase more filters, and it means less hassle of lugging more filters with me. I have learned that there’s more to consider than the price and quality of any particular lens alone when deciding which one to purchase, as any filters that I’d like to use aren’t cheap if I match the quality of the filters to the quality of the lens. One thing that I’ve done to improve the quality of the images that I shoot was to quit using UV filters on my lenses, even though I had purchased fairly good ones for my lenses. For the polarizing and neutral density filters I purchased, I went with much higher quality filters, with a much larger price tag.

Before placing the order, I reviewed many of the landscape photos that I’ve shot the past few years, and I can see that I need more than a better lens to improve my skills at landscape photography. Having a new lens to play with gives me a great excuse to go out looking for landscapes to practice on.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and in so many of the landscape photos that I reviewed, I kept asking myself why I hadn’t moved this way or that, or gotten higher or lower. By the way, I chose to review landscapes that I’m very familiar with in order to make the review process more worthwhile. That’s how I could tell that I had missed the best shot possible as I settled for less than I could have achieved. If I had reviewed landscape photos of places that I had only been to once or twice, I wouldn’t have been able to see how many mistakes that I made, since I wouldn’t be able to remember how the overall scene looked as I shot it.

I know that here in my blog that I tend to speak negatively about the photos that I shoot, as I’m always looking for ways to get better images of all kinds. By pointing out my own shortcomings, I hope that those things stick in my head the next time that I have a similar opportunity to shoot the same subject, and I won’t make the same mistakes again. It’s also because I don’t want any one to think that I’m bragging, as I’m not really as good as I think that I am, or that my way is the only way. However, even in the landscape images that I reviewed, I can see how much I have improved over time.

I think that I have a good grasp on the fundamentals, but it’s my execution that isn’t up to snuff, at least in most of my attempts. Once in a while I get it right, and a great image is the result. I’ve also gotten much better at taking advantage of magic light when it happens, finding a way to capture the moment no matter where I am at the time.

Magic light

I should put myself in more photogenic places than the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but that’s the thing about magic light, you never know when or where it will happen.

I hope to have all three days of the upcoming Labor Day weekend off from work, although they are trying their best to screw that up for me even as I type this. If I do have all three days off, then I may devote at least part of one day to landscapes, even though I won’t have received the new lens by then. I’d better quit working on this post for a while, or I’ll go into a long rant about the place that I work and how they find ways to cheat me out of pay that I have coming, how they go back on every promise that they make, and other things as well. Let’s just say that I’m in the process of finding other employment.

It’s now Sunday morning, the middle of my three days off from work, and I’m about to leave to try to get some better photos than I was able to capture on Saturday. I wasn’t able to get close to a single bird, and most of the time, I found myself in the wrong place at the right time to shoot the photos that I would have liked to have shot. It didn’t help that my employer called me mid-morning, expecting me to drop what I was doing and rush in to cover a load because they hadn’t calculated the manpower that they required for the loads that they had for the day.

Anyway, this is what I mean about being in the wrong spot at the right time.

Great blue heron in flight

I hadn’t planned on shooting any photos of the heron, as the light was so wrong, but I was practicing tracking it. When I saw the reflection on the shimmering water, I shot a burst even though I knew that the heron would be little more than a silhouette.

That’s the way most of my day went, so I tried shooting in styles that are different from my usual bird portraits, like these mute swans napping.

Tranquility

I also shot this photo, even though it isn’t very good, but it does show one reason why the Muskegon County wastewater facility attracts so many birds.

Wall of insects

What looks like mist or haze is made up of swarms of insects that form above the vegetation between the lagoons and the drainage ditch that is off to the right in this photo. The insects spend part of their life-cycle as aquatic nymphs, which provide food for the shorebirds and ducks that come to the wastewater facility. Once the insects become adults that can fly, they provide food for the swallows and other birds that feast on insects.

By the way, that photo also illustrates why I’m loathe to switch lenses while I’m near swarms of insects like that. I can usually keep most of the insects out of my vehicle, but not always, and the last thing I need is an insect getting into my camera body while I’m swapping lenses.

Now then, back to being at the wrong place at the right time.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I was shooting almost directly into the sun for that one, so I let the cranes become silhouettes again, rather than get the cranes exposed correctly. Here’s another similar photo. With small flocks of cranes coming to one of the farmed fields there at the wastewater facility, I couldn’t resist shooting this as the cranes prepared to land.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I have several images that show even more cranes, but then they are overlapping one another. I prefer this one with the cranes spread out more. Several small flocks like this one came to land in a farm field where they had just shut off the irrigation system on that field. Had I known what was going to happen, I’d have gotten set up to shoot a video or two to capture the sounds of the cranes calling as they came to the field. Many species of birds flock to the farm fields there at the wastewater facility when the irrigation sprinklers are shut off, including the cranes, geese, gulls, crows, and some of the puddle ducks like mallards. The fields are muddy and often have large puddles of standing water then, and I’m sure that the birds find it easier to find insects then, along with tender shoots of plants that are just sprouting.

Speaking of farm fields, here’s my one attempt at a landscape photo from Sunday.

Cornfield

I needed an extra foot of height from my tripod with the gimbal head on it for me to have gotten the exact composition that I wanted, so I had to make do with that. Also, if I’m going to use the 7D for landscapes, as I did with that image, I need a lot more practice. I’m so used to using the 60D that I had trouble making the 7D do what I wanted it to do for a landscape image.

You’d think that two Canon cameras with crop sensors would work exactly the same way, but they don’t. I couldn’t make the 7D shoot three bracketed images automatically when using live view as the 60D does. I’ve gotten used to using the live view when shooting landscapes because I can step back from the camera and check the composition on the screen before I press the shutter release. I can still do that with the 7D, but I have to turn off live view first, at least until I figure out how to make it work the way that I want it to.

I suppose that I could continue to use the 60D for most of my landscape images, as it does well enough. But, the 7D has even more features that make it the better camera to use once I learn how to take advantage of those features. I still use the 60D for most of the macro photos that I shoot.

Aster

But, seeing the details that I was able to get in the insect images from my last post, I should use the 7D more often rather than settling for this quality of image.

Beetles on an aster flower

On Monday, I returned to the wastewater facility yet again, and soon after I had arrived, another older gentleman motioned me to stop as I was approaching where he was parked. I say another older gentleman, because I have to remember that the term applies to me these days.

Anyway, he had been photographing shorebirds and wanted some help identifying the birds that he had shot so far. So, I had a look at the birds there in that area, and told him what I thought that they were. We also went back through the images that he had shot earlier in other locations, and I did the best that I could as far as identifying the birds by viewing the images on the small screen on his camera. We also talked about field guides for birds and photography as well. At some point in our talking, I noticed the sun breaking through the cloud cover that day, and I shot this flock shot of some of the birds we were watching at the time.

Assorted shorebirds and a gull

I wouldn’t have tried a portrait shot from that angle unless I had no other choice, but I like that one of the flock with the sunlight playing off the water and how contrasty the backlighting made the birds.

After the other older gentleman left, I got serious about shooting a portrait of one of the sanderlings that made up part of the flock.

Sanderling

I’ve photographed that species before, but never as well as these two images turned out.

Sanderling

Remember, when you see one of my images that are as good as that one is, this is what I’m dealing with as I try to shoot still images.

Every species of shorebird feeds a little differently, the sanderlings are non-stop motion as the run in and out with the waves, picking up tidbits of food that the waves bring in. I should have used my tripod when shooting the video, even the stills for that matter, but I was sitting behind a clump of weeds on the slope down to the lagoon to get the stills and video. Setting up the tripod on the slope would have been a problem, and I didn’t want to spook the birds since they were close, and I had good light for photos.

Going even further, I could have tried the portable hide for the first time ever, but I didn’t really need it to get a good image of a sanderling. By the way, the other shorebirds that you see in the video and the first still image are lesser yellowlegs and semi-palmated sandpipers, and I already have good close-ups of both of those species. I suppose that I could have sat there for hours trying for even better images of all three species, but I didn’t like the background there, and the light was just okay, not great.

As it was, every once in a while, the entire flock would take off and fly to another spot close by, but then return a short time later. With my luck, if I had set-up the portable hide, the birds wouldn’t have returned.

Assorted shorebirds in flight

 

Assorted shorebirds in flight

 

Assorted shorebirds in flight

I should set-up the hide in a spot where I know that a belted kingfisher likes to perch as it watches for fish to eat.

Female belted kingfisher

Then, maybe I’d get a better photo than that, or than these.

Male belted kingfisher

Why is it that they will only hold still for a photo when the light isn’t the greatest?

Male belted kingfisher

At least this guy gave me a few good poses before it took off.

Male belted kingfisher

I’ll never be a real birder, as I refuse to try to identify and count all of the birds in this photo.

Birds of a feather?

Most of the ducks are northern shovelers, but there’s a few mallards and other species mixed in, along with the gulls.

Speaking of gulls, I spotted another lesser black-backed gull on Monday, although it was too far away for a good photo.

Lesser black-backed gull and herring gulls

But, that’s a “for the record” type of photo and to show that I do see a variety of species each time that I’m out. I have plenty of photos left from Saturday and Sunday of this long holiday weekend, and also some left from last weekend. However, I’m going to finish this post off with a few more images from Monday.

I suppose that it’s because they are in the news so much as being threatened that I can’t resist shooting a monarch butterfly if it will pose for me.

Monarch butterfly

I cropped the next one to show it drinking nectar from the goldenrod, and I was also trying to show its eye better.

Monarch butterfly

At the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve on Monday, I found a number of flowers. Of course I found them on Monday when it was cloudy and windy, not on Saturday or Sunday when I was there with better light and no wind to deal with.

Unidentified white aquatic flowers

I think that I should know what these white flowers are, but I haven’t had time to go back to the past few years of my photos to check if I’ve seen them before, and what they are.

Unidentified white aquatic flowers

They’ve been removing some of the thick underbrush at the preserve and I found these blue flowers growing in an area where they had opened the understory of vegetation up to allow more small plants to grow. I’m not sure if these are wildflowers, or if some one planted them in the opening they’ve created.

Unidentified small blue flowers

Each flower was about half an inch across and the plant itself was close to a foot tall.

It’s the same for these pink flowers, they were about the same size as the blue ones. However, the plants that produced the flowers grew to over a foot tall. I had to shoot quite a few photos to get these poor ones, due to the wind gusts of over 25 MPH coming off from Muskegon Lake at the time.

Unidentified small pink flowers

I thought about going back to my car and getting my macro lens to photograph these flowers, but it had become solidly overcast by then, and it began to rain shortly after I shot those photos. With the wind and no light, it didn’t seem worth it to try for any better images than I had already.

I spent the rest of Monday shooting really bad landscape photos in the rain with the 7D Mk II in preparation of the arrival of the new lens. It’s going to take some getting used to as I use the 7D for more of my landscape images, and that body has many more features geared towards landscapes than the 60D has, so it will be worth it in the long run. I used the 70-200 mm lens, since it is about the same quality of lens as the one that I have ordered. I’m not going to post any of the landscapes that I shot, but I could see in them that with a better lens, I get more detail in the images. I should be able to pick up the new lens tomorrow, and give it a try around home before next weekend. I’ll be watching the weather forecasts closely this week, as I’ll probably plan to go out and shoot plenty of landscapes as I test out the new lens if the weather is good for that.

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


Like a hole in the head

Now that I have the package of 13 X 19 inch Canon semi-gloss SG-201 photo paper and have made a few prints that size, I’ve come to a decision. I don’t need another camera, any more than I need a hole in my head. I’ll tell you why in a second, but first there’ll be a disclaimer section and a bit more about the Pixma Pro 100 printer.

I’m not sure why, but the prints that I’ve made so far are sharper than those that I’ve had made by a photo lab. It could be because I was using the cheaper photo labs, but my thought is that it’s because I’m printing directly from my RAW files through Lightroom. So, I can’t guarantee that very one using this same printer would see the same results that I see, unless they are also printing from Lightroom. That applies to the paper as well, that’s the only grade of paper that I’ve tested so far, so the results on other papers may not be the same.

However, the results that I see in the few prints that I’ve made are so good, that they’ve caused me to rethink many things, including going to a full frame camera.

At the suggestion of Marianne, one of the commenters to my last post, I printed out the image of the great blue heron from that post.

Great blue heron

As the print came out of the printer, the first thing that I noticed was that I could tell that the heron’s eye was moist from how well the printer reproduced the image. Then, I looked at the incredible details in the feathers of the heron. I had to go back to the image on my computer and zoom in to see if the level of detail that I saw in the print was there in the image as seen on the computer. Of course it was, but I hadn’t zoomed in far enough before to notice it. I knew that the image was sharp, but I hadn’t realized just how sharp it was.

That was shot with the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens on the 7D Mk II, and all I can say is that I don’t see how any other camera/lens combination could produce more detail in a print than what I see in the print that I made. Possibly the same lens on the Canon 5DS R, Canon’s 50 MP full frame camera, could be better, but it can’t be by very much if it is. And, only if some one looked at the print much more closely than any average person would view such a print.

That was shot in good light, which helps to bring out the level of detail that I see, but it was shot at ISO 640 because of the higher shutter speed that I used for that image. So, I went back and printed out the mute swan from the last post at 13 X 19, which was shot at ISO 100 with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, and I can see almost the same level of detail in that print.

Mute swan portrait

I don’t need a full frame camera to improve the details in my landscape images, I need better wide-angle lenses on the 7D. I shoot 95% of the landscapes that I shoot at ISO 100 anyway, because I use a tripod. So noise is never a problem when I shoot landscapes, and getting away from noise was another major factor in my desire for a full frame camera, other than resolution.

I know that there will be times when I’ve shot photos in low light at higher ISO settings, and I’ll be wishing that there wasn’t as much noise as I get that way, but after some thought, I can live with what I get with the 7D. I can remove all or most of the noise in Lightroom if I want to make a print of an image shot at a higher ISO. And to be honest with myself, few of the images that I shoot at higher ISO settings are worth printing anyway, because of other factors.

I have just a bit of technical talk left, and it concerns the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter. You may remember that I said in my last post that I had gotten brave, and adjusted the focusing of that lens and extender combination by using controls built into the 7D Mk II. I’d say that I nailed the adjustment.

Unidentified dragonfly

Where ever I put the focus point, that’s what’s now in focus.

Monarch butterfly

And, I no longer think that the 300 mm lens that I have is any sharper than the 100-400 mm lens.

Monarch butterfly

In fact, I can see that the 100-400 mm lens is even sharper than the 300 mm lens! And, I can see that I don’t need to upgrade my camera to get better details and resolution in my images. I’m going beyond what we can see with the naked eye, and getting details that we can only see with a magnifying glass in real life.

Monarch butterfly

Sorry, that brings up another point about upgrading my camera, I’ve gotten so spoiled by the 7D Mk II and all of its bells and whistles that it would be hard for me to do with less. That’s even though I didn’t think that I’d be using all those bells and whistles when I purchased that camera. I never thought that I would need to fine tune the auto-focusing of a lens, but it’s made a huge difference in shots like these.

Unidentified dragonfly

I purchased the 7D Mk II for its fast auto-focusing system, and because it’s built like a tank, with full weather sealing. Little did I know at the time that some of the features that I thought that I’d never use would become as important to me as they have become.

Unidentified dragonfly

I won’t run through the list of features that I have ended up using, I’ll just say once again that the 7D has spoiled me, and going to a camera with fewer features, like the 6D Mk II, doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified grasshopper

Those were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Saturday, August 19. It was a slow day for birding because I had arrived so late in the day, but I did shoot a couple of throw away type photos of a couple of eastern kingbirds that I saw, just to make sure that adjusting the focusing of the 100-400 mm lens hadn’t changed how well it does at longer ranges.

Eastern kingbird

 

Eastern kingbird

It’s too soon to tell about that though.

I could continue to babble away about the technical aspects of the decisions that I’ve made, but as I learn more about photography overall, the technical side is only part of the equation. I’ve seen a lot of technically good photos that when I look at them, but I wonder why some one shot that image in the first place. Those images don’t move me at all. On the other hand, I’ve loved some of the technically poor images that I’ve seen, because of the subject, the action that was captured, or the image connected with me because of the emotional factors that the image evoked in me.

While not rare in Michigan, it isn’t everyday that I see an osprey, and what this one was doing at the wastewater facility is beyond me. Maybe it was a young bird looking for a place to call its home territory, but the wastewater facility isn’t it, as there are few fish there other than the small fish in the drainage ditches there. I would have been less surprised if I had seen the osprey at the man-made lakes, but I don’t think that the fish in those lakes would support an osprey for very long either.

Osprey

That was shot from almost 75 yards away using the 100-400 mm lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing along with the image being cropped considerably. It was nice of the osprey to stick around as long as it did for me to get that shot. While the image quality may not be that great, it’s nice to have 800 mm of reach at times when I can’t get as close to a subject as I would prefer.

I’m beginning to see signs that fall is approaching more often all the time, whether it’s in the form of leaves on trees changing color already…

First signs of fall

…or in the way that birds are starting to form larger flocks for the upcoming migration.

Sandhill cranes

I eventually got a couple of close-ups of one of the cranes.

Sandhill crane

But by that time, it was the middle of the day, and heat waves once again ruined what would have been very good images if I had been able to shoot them earlier in the day.

Sandhill crane

I also shot a series of photos of a short-billed dowitcher…

Short-billed dowitcher

…as it dried its wings after a bath.

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

 

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

 

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

It even went airborne, hovering in place as it flapped.

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

While these photos are far from what I would have liked to have shot, they do show the patterns of the dowitcher’s feathers under its wings.

It’s funny, a few years ago I didn’t know any of the shorebirds other than killdeer and spotted sandpipers. As I’ve been working on the My Photo Life List project, I have learned to identify many of the shorebirds, and even gotten good images of most of the species. Now, I want great images of all of the species that I’ve already shot photos of, and posted to the My Photo Life List project. And, that includes action photos, showing the behaviors of the different species. I suppose that over time I will get the images that I want, it’s unrealistic of me to think that I’m going to get a perfect shot of a species of bird the first time that I see it.

I settled for a lot of poor images when I first began that project because I didn’t know that many of the species that I was seeing are actually quite common. That came from being new to birding. But, my skills as a photographer were also lacking, three years ago, I’d have never been able to get the images of the dowitcher drying its wings because I was shooting towards the sun as I shot them. So, I suppose that you could say that because I shot so many poor images in the past that I’ve finally learned how to get usable photos under poor conditions.

I have one more series of photos along those lines, a least sandpiper taking a bath.

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper drying its wings

Hopefully, one of these days I’ll be closer, with the light coming from the right direction, to shoot better photos of the action.

When it comes to saving images to put into the blog posts I do, I always wonder if I should use the current images that I’ve shot, or wait until I shoot better ones. That’s becoming harder, not easier, because the overall quality of my images has improved so much over the life of my blog. On the other hand, I’m also seeing that what I shoot today will be surpassed by what I shoot next month, or next year. In just the past month, I’ve gotten my best ever images of several species of birds, including the bald eagle from the last post.

Bald eagle

But, I’m also sure that it’s only a matter of time before I’ve gotten an even better image of a bald eagle.

So, I’m thinking of posting less often than I have in the past, another advantage of that is that it will give me more free time to get outside to shoot more. As I’ve said in the past, time is the real factor limiting my photography. That’s especially true this weekend, I took Monday off from work to have the service done on my Subaru, and to photograph the near total eclipse of the sun as seen here in Michigan.

Near total eclipse of the sun, August 21, 2017

As far as photos, the eclipse was a bit of a bust, since I didn’t travel a few hundred miles south and fight the crowds to see what’s called the totality and the diamond ring effect that I’m sure that every one has seen by now. But watching it live as it happened was awesome, well worth a day away from work. But, that means that I’m working this Saturday to make up for it, which limits my time even more than usual.

Also, posting less often removes some of the pressure that I feel to shoot only what I can photograph well, meaning mostly birds. If I’m going to spend the money to upgrade my wide-angle lenses, then I should learn how to use them effectively, or it will be money down the drain. That means going out and shooting landscapes mostly, even if I shoot them at the wrong time of day, or I shoot other subjects that may not be worthy of posting here in my blog right now. This is all part of my plans for the future, once I retire in just a few short years. I’d rather not wait until I get to one of America’s fabulous National Parks to learn how to shoot good landscape images. So, I had better get started now around home to learn how to shoot other than birds.

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


This is what it’s all about

I’ve started two draft posts about the fact that because of the level of detail and color reproduction that I’m seeing in the prints that I’ve been making with the new printer, that I have decided that I don’t need a better camera than the 7D Mk II that I’m using now. Those drafts are full of technical reasons why, but before I get started down that road again, this is why I’ve been working so hard to improve my photography. You can click on any of these photos to see a larger version of them.

Bald eagle

And, that’s not even the good shot, but it’s the one that will fit in the header of my blog the best, here are the good shots.

Bald eagle

Look at those eyes!

Bald eagle

Those show the details that I’m getting in my images these days, I think that this next one is all about the colors.

Great blue heron

Look at the beautiful shades of blue-grey tinged in brown in places that show on the heron’s wing.

This next one puts everything all together in one dramatic statement of what’s possible in photography these days.

Cedar waxwing

You can see how smooth and svelte the waxwing looks, but you can also make out the textures of its feathers, and for the first time, I captured the subtle barring that they have on their wings. Such beautiful birds deserve to be photographed well.

For me, it’s always been about showing others the beauty that I see in nature, and it’s finally showing up in my images.

Great blue heron in flight

You can see that many of the heron’s feathers are edged in another color, and how the feathers overlap to create the patterns you can see in these images.

Great blue heron in flight

It isn’t just birds, it is other subjects also.

Bumblebee?

I shot all of these on Sunday, and I’ve already put the insect photos that I shot on Saturday in another post, but here’s one from Saturday that I’ll also put in this post.

Monarch butterfly

I never knew that a monarch’s eyes had a hint of blue, or that a bumblebee’s eyes had stripes. I’m learning that the things seen in nature are even more beautiful than I had thought that they were.

I have a knack for catching birds striking a humorous pose…

Eastern Phoebe

…and now, I can make them appear even more life-like in my images.

Eastern Phoebe

I can also show every one when I find a red-tailed hawk that decided to go blonde.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

I don’t know if that hawk is leucitic, or if it’s a juvenile that hasn’t grown the brown feathers on its head the way most red-tailed hawks do. Either way, it looks a bit odd with a white head, as if it was trying to impersonate an eagle.

To prove that I still shoot bad photos, and that I’m not just doing this post to brag, here’s an odd sight, a turkey in flight.

Juvenile turkey in flight

I saw the turkey on the right edge of the road that I was driving on, and assumed that it would turn around and dive into the tall grass to hide as turkeys usually do 99.9% of the time. It didn’t though, as you can see, it flew across the road ahead of me so that I could shoot its butt with the camera pointed towards the sun.

While I do shoot a bad image from time to time, I am getting my ducks all in a row.

This year’s young are almost as big as their mother.

Here are the rest of the images that I saved from today.

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Dickcissel with a grasshopper

 

Bald eagle shot at 800 mm and live view focusing

I had the wrong camera and lens with me when this juvenile bald eagle flew past me, so I had to make do with what I had. They were shot just seconds after the bumblebee from earlier in this post.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Here’s something that you don’t see everyday, three great blue herons in a small area together. They’re normally solitary birds that will drive others of their species away, or be driven away by a more dominant one.

Great blue herons hanging out

As I’ve been driving for work each day the past week, I saw a large flock of great egrets in a small pond next to the expressway. I saw 12 egrets there on Friday, I went to that pond both Saturday and Sunday, and only this egret remained. I decided for a wider shot to show the habitat they prefer. I would have loved to have gotten the flock of egrets together though.

Great egret

I’ve already decided that I should do more of the wider photos to show the habitat that the birds prefer, but as you can see, I need more practice on them.

The next post will contain more of the insects that I shot Saturday, as well as other subjects, and my long discussion about how I decided that I don’t need to purchase a better camera. By the way, the adjustment that I made to the focusing of the 100-400 mm lens with the tele-converter attached seems to have worked. I had no trouble getting near macro photos of the insects as you will see.

It may have sounded like I was bragging (maybe just a little) but mostly, I’m excited that I’m able to show the subjects that I shoot as near to the way that they look in real life to me as I photograph them. And in the case of insects, I’m getting more in my images than I can see in real life. My goal has always been to show others the beautiful things that I see in nature, and I’m finally getting to the point where I can.

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