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

Photography

Plans changed, again

Well, I was thinking of going up north this Thursday on a scouting trip to check out places to photograph the fall colors in a few weeks, but it looks like it’s going to rain heavily most of the day in the area that I’m planning on going to. I may not even make it out to shoot any photos today from the looks of the radar this morning, we’ll see.

So, this post will be mostly photos that I shot last week, when my plans were also changed, in part, due to the weather. The forecast for last Thursday was for a thin layer of high clouds, which created nice, diffused light which would have been great for macro photography of flowers. To go with that, very light winds, so I wouldn’t have to chase flowers being blown around in the wind. I went to Huff Park, and quickly ran into two problems, a lack of flowers still in bloom, and hoards of hungry mosquitos. As cool as it was, there were no dragonflies or damselflies moving at the time, and with no wind, there was nothing to keep the mosquitos in check.

Here’s a few of the photos I did shoot as I was slapping at the skeeters.

Dew covered flower

Unfortunately, even though there were large numbers of spiders around…

Orb weaver spider

…they had no effect on the mosquito population at all. I did shoot a few photos of this one to show how it was repairing its web.

Orb weaver spider

I also shot a couple of short videos of the spider weaving its web, but they’re too shaky to post.

Here’s the rest of the images from my short time at Huff Park last week.

Turtlehead flowers

 

Joe Pye weed

So, I returned to my car and thought about where I could go to shoot some photos, and I recalled seeing many bird sighting over the past few years from a park called Covell Park in Whitehall, Michigan.

Whitehall is the next city north of Muskegon, where the White River flows into Lake Michigan. It isn’t very far north of Muskegon, less than a half an hour if you take the expressway, a little longer if you take the back roads as I did.

Covell Park is for the most part a parking lot that provides access to what is a rails to trails pathway that runs north out of Whitehall. There’s a bridge over the White River, which is where I think that most of the bird sightings occur, as the area surrounding the river is marshland, which is great habitat for wading birds and shorebirds, which make up the majority of the bird sightings that I’ve been interested in from there. The bridge over the White River would be a great place to set-up a spotting scope and spend time scanning the edges of the marshes for such birds. But, for photography, there’s really no way to get close enough to the birds in the marshes by foot. It would be a great place to put a boat or kayak in the river, and slowly paddle around the marshes there though.

I did walk the section of the rail trail that passes through the marsh, but there were few openings in the vegetation where I could look into the marsh though. Here are the few images I shot there.

Purple sweet pea

 

Unidentified fungi

 

American goldfinch

 

Purple coneflower

 

Some species of lobelia

 

Yellow toadflax

 

Unknown flowering object

 

Fall still life

I should have shot a few wider photos to show the marshes and how the single path across them was the narrow, raised old railroad grade, but I didn’t. I doubt if I will return to that park unless I get really brave, and begin taking my expensive camera gear in my kayak in the future.

Since I was in the same general area, I stopped to shoot a photo of the lighthouse built where the White River meets Lake Michigan.

The White River Lighthouse

I should have, but couldn’t resist shooting a passing gull.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also found a song sparrow scouring the rocks along the river channel for food.

Song sparrow looking surreal

It’s fall, and not only are birds migrating south, but so are the monarch butterflies. I may have a distorted view as far as how rare they are becoming, for I see them in large numbers near the shores of Lake Michigan every fall. I assume that they are headed southwest from across the entire state of Michigan, they get to Lake Michigan, and follow the coast south around the lake until they can fly across land in the direction that they really want to go. I saw a large number of them as I walked the short distance along the channel, and I just had to try to capture one in flight.

Monarch butterfly in flight

These photos were test shots to see if I could catch one, I may have to try this again when the skies are clear so that I get a better background than the grey skies when I shot these.

Monarch butterfly in flight

I’ve been checking the radar all morning, and moderate rain continues to fall to the north where I had planned on going today. The weather isn’t much better here, the rain did let up for a short time, but another line of thunder showers is passing overhead as I’ve been working on this post. So now, I’ll move on to  the photos from last Friday.

This is why I no longer shoot many photos of waterfowl in the fall…

Male northern shoveler in its fall plumage

…when they’re such colorful birds in the spring.

Male northern shoveler in flight

On the other hand, American kestrel are pretty birds at any time of the year.

American kestrel in flight

If only they’d allow me to get closer to them.

American kestrel in flight

Those were shot in the late morning, as dawn was quite foggy.

Foggy fall morning

Seeing a small flock of sandhill cranes in the fog…

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

…I decided that it would be a good test of the new 5D Mk IV to see how it would perform on a foggy day.

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

A little more work in Lightroom, and I came up with this one.

Sandhill cranes on a foggy morning

By the way, you can see that the cranes were eating corn that had been dropped in the road.

Grass seeds in the fog

Some one asked about dew covered spider webs, and while I’ve shot many of them this fall, I haven’t posted them. I feel that they are a bit clichéd, and I lose track of what I have and have not posted photos of recently. And, while I’ve shot many that were better than this next one, I haven’t shot what I considered to be one that stood out among the rest. I’ve done better in the past.

Spider web

And, unlike past years when I seldom saw the spiders that spun the webs, this year, I’m seeing them everywhere.

Garden spider and web

Dew does change the appearance of the things covered in it…

Grass seeds close up take 1

…so I tried two completely different takes on this example.

Grass seeds close up take 2

I wish that I could have gone slightly wider with this next one…

Fall colors

…but then I would have had some distractions in the frame to go with the bright leaves and berries.

I think that I post too many photos of dragonflies…

Dragonfly

…but that was a test of depth of field and composition when it comes to close-ups of insects.

Finally, two photos of a belted kingfisher in flight.

Belted kingfisher in flight

I used to post many photos of this species that were similar, but I haven’t posted any lately.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Well, it’s now Friday morning. I did manage to make it to the Muskegon area yesterday afternoon after the morning storms had passed through the area. I shot a pitifully low number of photos though, so I’ll just end this one here, and tell the story of what happened yesterday, and what happens today, in my next post.

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

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Having trouble getting started

I’m having trouble getting started with this post at the present time, I could do a post about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), which I thought that I had conquered. But, both Canon and Nikon have recently introduced full frame mirrorless cameras which will probably be the future of digital photography. I could explain why that is, and why I’m interested, but I don’t think that I will, at least not now.

I could do a post on why it’s hard for me to post average photos of common subjects…

Red-eyed vireo

…since I shot the image of the dragonfly from my last post, and I’ve been expanding my horizons this summer in shooting night photos, the Milky Way, and the other subjects that I’ve been shooting. But, I won’t, as that leads me back to photo gear and techniques, such as how my images of birds in flight…

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

…have improved to the point that I’m now proud of the images of them that I shoot far more often than not.

Or, I could brag about how much my macro images have improved lately…

Grasshopper

 

Water strider

…but I don’t want to go down that road either.

I could do a post on the ethics of baiting wildlife, and whether it’s a violation of my own ethics if I see that birds…

Male northern cardinal molting

 

Male northern cardinal molting

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

…or other wildlife comes to eat what others have left for them…

Red squirrel

…when I could just post this photo…

White-breasted nuthatch

…and not mention that I got that photo by standing near food that some one else had left to attract the bird in the photo.

In some ways, what I did in standing near the pile of peanuts, sunflower seeds, and other seeds on the ground isn’t much different from when I stand near a bush covered with berries that I see birds eating and photograph the birds as they come to eat the berries. The only difference is that the berries are a natural source of food that I take advantage of, rather than putting the food out myself.

I could do a detailed description of Huff Park, the park that I’ve gone to the past two weeks…

Sign for Huff Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

…but I think that the signs says everything that I would have to say about the park.

Wait, that’s not true, I do have something to say about this park. It’s another of the postage stamp sized parks that attracts a wide variety of migrating birds that use the park during their journeys, both north in the spring, and south in the fall. This park, like many of the other smaller parks I’ve been visiting lately, provide the birds with food and cover, places for them to rest and refuel within the limits of Michigan’s second largest city.

I used to go to the largest parks and other public areas that there were in the area where I live, thinking that getting away from other people was the key to finding birds to photograph, and while I do see a few birds in large parks, they are spread out more, and harder to find. These small parks, such as Huff Park, The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and the East Grand River Park in Grand Haven, concentrate the birds in small areas, making them easier to find and photograph. Not only that, I would think that these small oasis parks are very important to the survival of many of the migrating birds that depend on these parks during migration.

That leads me to another observation that I’ve made recently, when I go to a large park, the birds are spread out over wide areas, and I see only one or two at a time. However, in the smaller parks, the birds form large mixed flocks that stay together as they move though the park as they search for food. I wonder why that is? Not that I have an answer, but it’s something that I hope to remember to ask Brian Johnson the next time that I bump into him.

Now, more than ever, I wish that I had been able to photograph more of the birds that I saw in Huff Park than I was able to.

Female northern cardinal

I missed more birds than I was able to get photos of.

Eastern wood-pewee

And for this next one, I threw the camera to my eye, hit the auto-focus button and shutter release at almost the same time, hoping that the camera would get a focus on the bird before it moved on me yet again.

Magnolia warbler

Just as on the trail to Lost Lake in Muskegon last week, I found flickers in flocks as they migrate south.

Northern Flicker

While the year round resident downy woodpeckers were nearby, but they were also there in small flocks mixed in the overall larger mixed flocks of birds.

Male downy woodpecker

Some of it makes sense to me, when I think about it. I can see why flycatchers such as the pewee and a few eastern Phoebe that I wasn’t able to get photos of, would hang around near the warblers, vireos, and other smaller birds, to pick off the flying insects stirred up by the smaller birds as they worked through the vegetation looking for their own preferred insects to eat.

I’m guessing that the flickers were in small family flocks, maybe several families of them migrating together, and they are vocal birds, often calling to one another as they search for food, or in the case last week while on the Lost Lake trail, alerting the others to the Cooper’s hawk that was hunting the flickers and other small birds.

Maybe I’m on to something here. In large parks, the birds are able to spread out more, making it harder for potential predators…

Domestic cat

…to locate them. In a small park, where they are already concentrated in a small area to begin with, and therefore easier for predators to find them, maybe it’s safer for the birds to all stick together in even tighter flocks so that they can warn the others in the flock of predators, or receive the warnings from the others.

Of course, that theory may be all wrong, but it’s something for me to continue to observe this fall as the birds migrate south.

That reminds me, I have another “mystery” that I’d love to be able to solve. It concerns this juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle carrying a fish

…where it catches fish, and where it goes to eat them. This is the third time that I’ve seen this juvenile eagle carrying fish while flying over the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve from south to north. I have to wonder why it travels so far to eat the fish that it catches, since it’s a juvenile, and given the time of year that it is, it can’t be carrying the fish back to  its nest to feed its young. I’d love to find out where it does its fishing, it can’t be very far from the preserve from the lay of the land and water in that area. There are also trees and manmade objects that the eagle could use as a perch to land and eat the fish that it catches off to the south of the preserve, so I don’t understand why it travels so far and burns so much energy carrying the fish as far as it does. It’s not as if eagles share food, quite the contrary, they often steal food from other eagles and other predators when they can. Maybe that’s why this eagle travels as far as it does, it has a spot where it feels safe to perch and eat its meal in peace, and not have to fight off other eagles trying to steal the meal it worked so hard for.

It could also be that the eagle doesn’t want to alert any other passing eagles to the fishing spot that it’s found if it were to perch nearer to where it had caught the fish it was carrying. If another eagle flying past saw this one eating its meal nearby, the other eagle may encroach on this one’s favorite fishing hole. So, maybe as I typed this out, I’ve explained the mystery, but I’d still love to learn where this eagle does its fishing in hopes that I’d be able to photograph it in action.

I suppose that the poor photo of the eagle carrying its meal should be my motivation to continue to shoot photos such as that, as they prompt me to think about the behavior of the subjects of such photographs, and I try to figure out why the subject is doing what it’s doing.

Sometimes, that’s easy.

Jumping spider with its meal

I did try to shoot a better photo from close to the same angle, but the vegetation made that impossible.

Jumping spider with its meal

So, I had to settle for this.

Jumping spider with its meal

I also wish that I’d been able to switch to my macro lens and get closer to the spider, but it was already trying to move away from me, dragging the grasshopper with it since it didn’t want to lose its meal. On the other hand, this garden spider was too busy wrapping its latest victim in its web as I shot this photo.

Garden spider and its meal

That’s one of the many times that I should have switched to shoot a video of the spider as it used its hind legs to wrap the grasshopper in its web. But, handholding the camera, the 100-400 mm lens, and the 1.4 X tele-converter would have resulted in such a poor video because of how shaky it would have been that I didn’t even try to shoot a video.

Come to think of it, I have another mystery to solve, and I don’t think that I’ll be able to do that on my own.

The mystery of the blue leaves

I took that wide shot after I had removed some of the other foliage from around these leaves…

The mystery of the blue leaves

…to get the best possible view, and best possible photo of them.

It looked to me as if these leaves had turned blue naturally, and weren’t a result of human interference, such as paint. I suppose that the minerals in the soil could be the reason that these leaves turned blue, but I’m not an expert on plants. I can’t even identify the species of plant that this is, which is the reason that I included the wider shot, in hopes that some one would be able to tell me what this plant is, and possibly, why its leaves would turn that shade of blue.

Anyway, here are a few more of the photos that I shot this last week.

Tickseed sunflower?

 

Bumblebee on the same species of flower

Sometimes, I prefer a wider shot that I shoot…

Joe Pye weed

…over images that I shoot with the macro lens.

Joe Pye weed

I wonder why all spiders seem to hang upside down on their webs, and also, why I seldom see them in a position where I can shoot the top of them.

Orb weaver spider

I really meant to pay more attention to the leaves of this next flower so that I’d have a chance of identifying it, but I was distracted by the spider shown above and forgot to shoot a photo of the leaves.

One of the smartweed? Possibly lady’s thumb?

My skill level when it comes to identifying flowers is close to zero, I believe that this next flower is in the aster family, and not the daisy family, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn otherwise.

White aster?

This next one is just a wider photo showing some of the colors and textures that I saw and enjoyed, even if the photo doesn’t do justice to the scene.

Fall colors and textures

And finally, one of my favorite wildflowers which is coming to the end of its blooming period as fall approaches.

Chicory

Well, I have a good many thoughts running through my head right now, things that I have to sort out as I go. I’ve already had another two days off from work since I began this post, and I just barely managed to shoot enough photos for another post, maybe. They were somewhat disappointing days, made worse by the swarms of mosquitoes everywhere I went during those two days. We received over a foot of rain over a two-week period not long ago, which as I explained in a previous post, has made finding trails dry enough to walk harder to do. And with all the standing water left from the rain, it’s going to be a bad fall as far as the skeeters, at least until it dries out here.

Enough of that, time for me to work on my plans for going up north in a few weeks to photograph the fall colors there, and to begin another post.

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


What all the talk leads to

At  the end of my last post, I said that I had shot one of the best images that I’ve ever taken, so here it is.

Unidentified dragonfly

Although, some people may prefer this slightly brighter version a little more.

Unidentified dragonfly

Those aren’t the same image with the second one brightened a bit, you can tell that by the background as the cattails in the shade moved in the wind between the images.

Either version is what I’ve been trying to accomplish as far as improving my photography skills to get the best possible images that I can. In truth, all it takes is luck, and shooting 750 photos of dragonflies to this point since I’ve been adding keywords to my photos in Lightroom. I had followed several of this species of dragonfly around on that day, shooting many photos that were okay…

Unidentified dragonfly

…but didn’t have the dramatic lighting of the first two. I knew that I was getting something special as I viewed the dragonfly through the viewfinder, and for once, I didn’t blow my chance. The dragonfly was in a good position, well away from the background vegetation. The late afternoon sun low in the sky raked the dragonfly from the side, but was diffused enough not to cast harsh shadows. The only thing that I would have changed if I could have, is that I wish that it had been facing towards me a little more than it was.

Sorry, this will be the camera talk part of this post.

While using the 7D Mk II, I’ve been exposing to the right, that is, setting the exposure to as bright as I could get it without blowing out the highlights. I’ve had to do that to prevent getting too much noise in the images that I’ve shot with that camera. But, the 5D Mk IV is completely different, even though the first two images were shot at ISO 8000, there wasn’t much noise in them to remove in Lightroom, although I have gone back and cleaned those images up a bit since the versions that you see here.

Using the 7D is like shooting with color print film, I’ve gotten the best results over-exposing slightly, from 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. Soon after I began using the 5D, I’ve been setting the exposure as I would for color slide film, going 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop lower in exposure to get the color saturation and fine details in the images I shoot with the 5D. Since my favorite film back in the old days was Kodachrome slide film, using the 5D is a natural to me.

I’ve since gone a little lower with the exposure when shooting with the 7D, and that helps a little as far as color saturation and capturing fine details, but that camera still requires a brighter exposure setting than the 5D to prevent excess noise in my images.

The 5D Mk IV is spoiling me, in so many ways. I can use all the focus points while using the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, while I’m limited to just the single center focus point with the same lens set-up on the 7D. I’ll try to move the focus point when using the 7D, or wonder why all the focus points don’t become active when I try to set the camera that way, and it takes me a few seconds to remember the differences between the two cameras.

Then there’s the better low-light performance of the 5D…

Whitetail family, sort of

…these were shot at ISO 25600…

Whitetail doe

…with no noise reduction other than what the camera itself does.

I wanted to get all three deer in the frame at once, but I wasn’t able to, as I also wanted to show that the closest fawn to me still has its spots. It was already turning to run off when I shot the first photo, with the other fawn following right behind it. Their mother stuck around for that last photo though, before she took off also. The 7D Mk II won’t even go that high for the ISO setting unless I enable the extended range for the ISO settings, and the amount of noise I’d get would be terrible. These aren’t bad at all considering how low the light was when I shot them.

Anyway, getting the image of the dragonfly that I did came at a good time for me. Since I’ve been expanding the range of subjects that I photograph, such as night photography in town, the Milky Way, and working on better macro images…

Unidentified orange mushroom

 

Violet webcap, Cortinarius violaceus?

…I haven’t been paying as much attention to birds…

Male northern cardinal molting

…or mammals…

Mosquito going after a squirrel that had stolen some one’s cookie

…as I should be.

I’ve been chasing great light…

Monarch butterfly

…or trying to be more artistic…

Damselfly and cattails

…although I think that the way that I framed that last shot to get the colors of the cattails and the composition the way that I did actually works to hide the damselfly. That’s why I continue to plug away with my photography, learning with each photo I shoot.

I was sitting on a bench taking a break, trying to cool down on a hot day, when I saw the damselfly. Rather than jump into action immediately, putting the focus point on the damselfly’s eye and firing away as I’ve done in the past, I sat there for a few minutes looking over the entire scene. I liked the colors of the cattails and the positions of the individual leaves, and the light, so I thought about ways I could incorporate them in my image when I shot it. I may have done too good of a job though, as the cattails distract the eye from the damselfly.

I did too much of the opposite on the previous day while at Lost Lake working on macro photos, as I walked to the observation deck to drop my un-needed photo gear, and after a quick stroll around the area, I found many of the subjects that I wanted to photograph. Then, I returned to the observation deck, got the macro set-up ready, and practically raced from subject to subject, checking them off from the mental list that I had made. That’s why many of the photos aren’t what I wanted…

Jelly fungus?

 

Unidentified fungal object

…I was in too much of a hurry to “complete a task”, rather than take the time to think about each image…

Puffball

…and get the best possible image of each subject.

I didn’t have to hurry, these things weren’t going anywhere, but I did. I only slowed down when I saw something that interested me that I hadn’t noticed before when I did my walk around the area.

Unidentified orange fungi

When I saw these, I noticed that the tips of them seemed to be different…

Unidentified orange fungi

…so I shot many photos of them.

Unidentified orange fungi

I thought that these were a species of coral fungi just beginning to grow, but now I don’t think so. In researching one of the subjects in another of my photos, I came across a website that may have provided me with the proper species name for these, but as I was researching something else at the time, I didn’t note the species or website that I found these on, silly me, again.

There are times when I see something that interest me, and after I’ve photographed it, I almost wish that I hadn’t. This has to be one of the ugliest, most menacing insects I’ve ever seen…

Ugly, menacing insect

…no matter what angle I shot it at.

Ugly, menacing insect

I’d hate to be bitten by that thing, whatever it was!

Anyway, even as I was rushing around shooting the macros and close-ups during my time at Lost Lake…

Partridge berry and plant?

…I was telling myself to slow down to get the best photo I could…

Unidentified fungal object

…but at the same time…

Unidentified fungal objects

….I had noted so many things that I wanted to shoot…

Unidentified fungal object

….that I wanted to make sure that I got to them…

Unidentified fungal object

…before I’d forgotten where they were.

Unidentified fungal object

Now it occurs to me that I should make use of a notebook that I purchased, but seldom use. I should have drawn a rough sketch of the area, and marked on the sketch where the things were that I wanted to shoot. That way, I wouldn’t have had to rely on my sometimes faulty memory to locate those things once I’m ready to begin shooting them. And, I know better than to carry the camera with me as I look for small subjects to photograph, as I would have missed most of these things if I had done that.

Most of the macros from my excursion to Lost Lake were shot in a very small area, perhaps 50 feet in diameter around the observation deck at the lake. In a way, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities, as some of the things I saw I did shoot photos of, but I’m not going to post them. I have a feeling that when it comes to macro photography, that this won’t be the only time that there are more subjects to photograph than I can remember if I scout first, and shoot later.

In my defense, I was also experimenting with the macro lighting set-up that I showed in my last post, some of the time that I should have been thinking about the best way to shoot some of these subjects was taken up by my thinking of how I could improve the lighting rig for in the future.

After the macro excursion on Thursday, I didn’t take my macro lens with me as I walked the local park on Friday, but I should have. I meant the Friday trip as a day of birding, staying in practice chasing small birds in the brush.

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Great crested flycatcher

 

Eastern bluebird

 

Black-capped chickadee calling

 

Nashville warbler

I missed more birds than I was able to get, because it has been a while since I’ve chased them around to any degree. What I actually mean by chasing the birds around is usually standing in one spot waiting until I see a bird, then moving as little as possible to get a clear view of them. Most of the time on Friday, the birds had moved before I could get them in the viewfinder and in focus to shoot a photo of them. It didn’t help that my movements were limited because I was on the newly rebuilt boardwalk over the marsh at the park I was at.

For the record, I went to Huff Park in northeast Grand Rapids, very close to where I grew up as a kid. I’ve been there a couple of times in the past, but I quit going there because the boardwalk was falling apart, and if I remember right, part of it was closed during my last visit. The entire boardwalk has been replaced now, so I think that I’ll be going there one or two days a month this fall. It’s much closer to home than Muskegon, and it does attract a wide variety of migrating birds.

I wasn’t going to post this, it was a test of the new 24-70 mm lens, but it does show the marsh there at Huff Park.

The marsh at Huff Park, Grand Rapids, MI.

The birds are generally found around the edges of the marsh, and there’s a trail all the way around the marsh. Much of the trail is the raised boardwalk which does limit my ability to move around to get the best view of the birds, but I think that it will be worth it, time will tell.

 

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


Needs refinement

Before I get to this week’s photos, I have a few leftover from last week to use up.

Caspian tern yawning

I’m not going to add my commentary to these…

Pickerel weed flowers

…other than to say…

Arrowhead flowers

…that I dissect every photo that I shoot…

Ceiling of the blockhouse at Muskegon State Park

…and think of ways that I could improve it…

Bumblebee on purple loosestrife

…if I were given the chance…

Caspian terns

…to shoot the same subject…

Caspian terns

…under the same conditions…

Caspian tern

…which seldom happens.

Anyway, this week, I returned to Lost Lake when the light was better, and I had concocted a rather ugly and cheesy way to hold my flash unit when using my macro lens.

It works well for insects…

Wasp-like insect on goldenrod flowers

…and reasonably well on flowers…

Purple gerardia

 

Purple gerardia

…but not so well with some fungi…

Unidentified purple fungi

…because I can’t always position the flash at the correct angle for the subject.

Here’s a photo of the rig that I cobbled together.

Macro lighting rig

You can see that the flash fires down and towards the subject slightly when I use it, not shown is the piece of tissue paper I use to diffuse the light from the flash unit.

One downside to using that rig is that it is heavy, I definitely have to use both hands to hold the camera with the flash attached. That means that I don’t have a hand free to hold the subject in the perfect position when it’s needed.

Unidentified orchids

And, after 10 inches of rain in three days, everything was still very wet, and I didn’t enjoy crawling around on the ground getting wetter with every move that I made. So, some of my images aren’t quite what I had in mind when I thought about them in advance.

Unidentified orchids

Parts of the trail to Lost Lake were under water left from the storms earlier this week, and I had to do some bushwhacking to get back to the lake, but it was worth it.

Another unidentified flower

I need to work on the macro lighting rig and refine it. The cheap plate that attached the rig to the camera is too flexible, and I can’t tighten it enough so that everything stays in place all the time. The black flexible stand works well enough, although it doesn’t offer as much range of motion as I had hoped, and it’s very heavy. It does hold the flash unit in place though, and that’s what counts.

It takes even more light that I anticipated to shoot very good macro photos, in the deep shade where I found a few examples of fungi growing after the recent rain…

Oyster mushrooms

…I had to boost the ISO all the way to 6400 even when I used the flash unit. And even then, the way that the flash is pointed on my homemade rig…

Yet another unidentified fungi

…the stems of some subjects were in the deep shade caused by the angle of the flash unit.

I had planned on bringing the LED light that I have with me, but it wouldn’t fit in the backpack that I used to carry my gear in back to Lost Lake. The LED light would have helped to kill the shadows caused by the flash enough to make these better images, but since I wasn’t able to test it, I’m not sure.

If I had used a tripod, things would have been better, although the tripod that I have wouldn’t have worked as close to the subject that I have to be for macro photos, or as close to the ground as fungi are. And, I’d rather not purchase (and carry) yet another specialty tripod, one best suited for macro photography.

The lone fungi mini-scape

That was shot with the 24-70 mm lens as a test of sorts, I like the lone brightly colored fungi against the bright green moss, if I could have gotten lower, it would have been even better. But to do that, I’d have to have dug a hole to lower the camera down into. 😉

I don’t want this to be all talk of camera gear, but it’s hard not to, because this trip was another test of sorts.

This excursion was all about macro photography, although I did carry the 100-400 mm lens in case I saw birds, which I did.

Olive sided flycatcher

And, that set-up works well for close-ups as well…

Unidentified coral fungi

…on this day, it worked better than my macro lens on the 5D.

Unidentified coral fungi

I also carried the 100 mm macro lens, of course, and the new 24-70 mm lens, flash unit, and a few other accessories, like the set of extension tubes to go behind the macro lens.. I packed them all but the birding set-up in the free backpack that I received a few months ago, the bad part was that the free backpack didn’t hold all that I wanted to bring, and it’s very inconvenient to use. The 5D with the 100 mm macro lens filled the top compartment, everything else went into the lower compartment. That meant overtime that I wanted to shoot a macro, I’d have to take the backpack off, remove the camera from the top compartment, then move the backpack around to access the lower compartment for the required accessories. I had to reverse all of that to move to the next location. By the way, the lower compartment has not only a separate zippered cover, but extra material and straps that have to be packed into the compartment to close it again, a royal pain.

The good news was that with just about everything that I needed but the LED light, the backpack was light enough that I could have easily gone much farther than the mile that it is to Lost Lake, plus the mile for the return trip, even with having to detour around the flooded sections of the trail. In fact, I could have easily carried the 16-35 mm lens with me as well, and possibly the 70-200 mm lens also. In comparison to the backpack that I have filled with my crop sensor camera gear, the full frame sensor lenses seem to be much lighter.

I mentioned that I had brought the extension tubes with me, I should have used them for these tiny white fungi that I saw.

Tiny white fungi or slime mold

The green line across the photo is a pine needle, that’s how small the fungi were, and why I should have used an extension tube to get closer to them. But, I was having trouble getting enough light as it was, I couldn’t afford to lose another stop or more of light by adding the extension tube behind the lens. Again, the LED light would have helped to put more light into the scene. Here’s something else that I wished I had used an extension tube on.

Possibly mold on a fungi? Or slime mold?

It doesn’t look like much in that photo, but the network of intertwined filaments (for the lack of knowledge of what they really are) was quite beautiful when I looked through he viewfinder. I think that if I’d been able to get closer, I could have gotten more depth in that image, along with showing how it was structured much better than I did.

Overall, the day was a good one, even though after I’ve reviewed the images that I shot, I should have tried different angles and/or techniques for many of the things that I saw.

Heal all?

My biggest disappointment of the day was this image.

Puddle abstract

The leaf in the upper right of the frame was floating on top of the water in a puddle. The brown maple leaf left of center as on the bottom of the puddle, and the green blobs were the reflections of leaves from trees overhead. I could get the camera to focus on the reflections of the leaves, but then the puddle itself was out of focus. Just as in the water-lily image from my last post where I got the refracted light from the sky as bright blue rings…

Water lily and bee

…I like the bright green and blue lines around the bottom edge of the puddle, caused by the refraction of the light from the green of the leaves and blue sky overhead, along with the overall color combinations in the puddle scene.

It’s a funny thing about photographing reflections, the camera doesn’t “see” the reflections on the surface of the water on the same plane as the surface of the water, to get the reflections in focus, the camera goes by the distance from where the items being reflected are in reality, in this case twenty to thirty feet above the surface of the water. So, while the puddle was about five feet from me as I shot the image, I would have had to focus much farther away then that to get the reflections in focus.

I should have spent much more time at the puddle, trying different things. I could have zoomed in on just the bright green and blue lines along the edge of the puddle for a striking image. Or, I could have possibly gone to the wide-angle lens while moving closer to the puddle to retain the same composition, but gain depth of field to get both the puddle and its contents in focus along with the reflections of the leaves at the same time, the way my eyes saw the scene. I blew it again by being in too much of a hurry when presented with the opportunity to shoot something special.

Thinking more about the puddle image, maybe focus stacking software would have been a way to get the final image I was after with both the reflected leaves and the puddle all in focus at once. However, I was too dumb to shoot a shot of the leaf reflections in focus to try later.

It’s much easier to photograph the beauty in nature when it comes in the form of things such as a large flower, an iconic landscape, or a particularly beautiful species of wildlife. It’s harder to find ways to shoot images that require special equipment or techniques to be able to share the beauty that’s in nature all around us, but that most people miss because it’s so small or subtle.

Anyway, I have to do better as far as working a scene and getting the best that I can as far as images, I tell myself that all the time, but I usually fail.

My other big failure for the day was this one.

Smartweed?

I thought that I had enough depth of field and the correct focus point to get both the flowers and leaves with the water drops in focus, so sure that I didn’t bother to check when I should have. I loved the light that I had for that image, and I forgot everything else.

On the other hand, I was quite pleased with this photo.

Leaf cascade

On my way back to Lost Lake, there were more birds along the trail than I’ve seen in a long time. Most of them were woodpeckers of various species, including a pileated woodpecker. I worked my way along the trail very slowly, not wanting to scare the pileated away, while at the same time, I shot these.

Northern flicker

The flicker was looking for breakfast…

Northern flicker

…chipping away at the dead wood…

Northern flicker

…and spitting larger pieces of wood out as the flicker removed them.

Northern flicker

Hairy woodpeckers look exactly the same as their smaller cousins, downy woodpeckers, other than their size, and longer beak. But they are becoming rare around here, and no one knows why, when other species of woodpeckers are doing well.

Hairy woodpecker

I never did get a shot of the pileated woodpecker, as it stayed hidden behind some leaves, and just as I was about to get to an opening through the leaves, a Cooper’s hawk flew overhead, fighting all the birds away. I stood there for a while, and a short time later a flicker flew overhead with the Cooper’s hawk behind it. They did a semi-circle around me, but I wasn’t able to get the hawk in focus long enough for a photo, darn. I was looking almost straight up with the backpack on, which made it hard to follow the action as fast as it was.

I have quite a few macro photos from the day left over, but you’ll have to wait to see them. Also, I shot one of my very best images of a dragonfly, one of my best images of anything to tell the truth, yesterday while I was walking around in a local park. But, since I’m already over my self-imposed quota of photos for this post, the dragonfly will be in the next post also.

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


It’s a winner

I have another post started that will probably never finish, as it’s another of my long-winded discussions on photography.

For the most part, it all boils down into this, the new 24-70 mm lens is a winner!

Hemlock grove

Especially when on the 5D Mk IV with its extended dynamic range.

Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park

And, it works well up close also.

Mushroom and moss

The macro function of the lens isn’t quite what I hoped it would be…

Wasp gall from an oak tree

…but it does fill in a small void between photos such as this one…

Cardinal flowers

…and when I switch to the 100 mm macro lens for images like this.

Sweet pea

It’s funny, the image above shows how one typically sees a sweet pea flower, but I rotated the image 90 degrees, because the flower really looked like this as I shot it…

Sweet pea

….but the image looks odd, I suppose it’s because that’s not the way that I see sweet peas in my mind’s eye. However, the odd version does do a better job of showing the true shape of the flower, which makes these two doubly odd in some ways. But, that’s what happens when showing three-dimensional objects in only two dimensions. Still, it’s the same flower in the same light shown in the same two dimensions, so I can’t explain why these two images look so different to me. Maybe it’s just me and the way that I see things.

When I found the cardinal flowers, I hung around for a while, trying to find one plant out in the open and hoping that a hummingbird would come along to drink the nectar from any of them…

Cardinal flowers

…but the colony of cardinal flowers were growing in amongst a thick tangle of various grasses, sedges, and cattails, and I never found a single cardinal flower plant standing alone, and only tattered butterflies…

Unidentified fluttering object on a cardinal flower

…showed up at any of the cardinal flowers. I tried for other shots of the butterflies, as there were many of them, but I couldn’t get a clear view of any but the one above. I did attempt to identify the butterflies, there were several species drinking the cardinal flower nectar, but all of the butterflies that I saw had very tattered wings, so much so that I couldn’t be sure of any ID I may have tried to make. I think that there were red-spotted purples and also one of the swallowtail species there, but as I said, their wings were in extremely bad shape.

As I write this, I wonder if the butterflies were tearing their wings up by flying through the thick vegetation to get to the cardinal flowers. The damage to their wings was so severe in many cases that I wondered how the butterfly could still fly. I should have shot a few photos to illustrate the damage, but I was looking for beautiful butterflies to photograph, and not thinking about why so many of them looked as bad as they did. Anyway, no hummers showed up there while I waited, only this dragonfly…

Dragonfly

…and a female track team out training for the coming season, although I shot no photos of the girls as they ran past me on the very narrow Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park.

I really blew it in my planning of where to go and when to go there, as when I got to Lost Lake, the shore that I was on was in deep shade yet. I was using the short hike to Lost Lake and back as a test to see how it would work to carry the 7D camera with the 100-400 mm lens on it for birds, and the 5D with the 24-70 mm lens on it for landscapes and wide-angle close-ups. Overall, it worked well enough, although I never got close enough to any of the birds I heard to shoot photos of them. I saw only a few small birds in the tree tops, out of camera range, and one larger bird that I think was an owl. However, I got only short glimpses of the larger bird as it flew into a tree above me, them flew away again as I attempted to get a clear view of whatever it was.

The reason that I said I blew it is because I should never go to Lost Lake without my macro lens, and probably my flash unit. I see flowers blooming there that I see nowhere else that I go, and many of them are quite small.

Tiny purple flower

I should have swapped lenses between the two bodies, as there’s far too much noise in these from the 7D, but I’m hoping to go back with my macro lens and shoot these same flowers again…

Tiny white flowers

…when the light is better and I have the proper equipment with me. The entire cluster of flowers in this next photo was only 3/8 to 1/2 an inch across…

Very tiny white flowers

…but at least the light was better when I shot that.

I did better with the larger flowers…

Water lily opening

…after waiting patiently for the sun to hit them. When it did, I had to check out each flower through the viewfinder of the camera to see how the flowers appeared to the camera…

Water lily

…because the low sun angle and the effects of the surface tension of the water made for some interesting images.

Water lily and bee

So the day wasn’t a total waste, because that one image made the day worthwhile to me. I wish that you could all see that last one full size and the way that it appears on my computer, the bee is a nice addition, but the blue rings around the lily pads because of the refraction of the reflection of the bright blue sky above really make that image something special to me.

I chased a couple of other subjects around trying to get good photos of them, like this toad…

American toad

…and this beetle…

Six spotted tiger beetle

…which moved just as I had the light as I wanted it every time, so I had to settle for this.

Six spotted tiger beetle

I should also say that techniques that I’ve begun using with the 5D Mk IV body also work with the 7D body, as the images of the beetle show. I didn’t think that the 7D was capable of that level of fine detail, but I was wrong, it was me, not the camera.

That’s why I continue to take test shots such as this one…

Prehistoric stump monster in color

…with the 24-70 mm lens as a test, knowing that I planned to convert it to B&W…

Prehistoric stump monster in B&W

…and that I probably wouldn’t be able to decide which version that I preferred.

I suppose that I should throw in a bird photo, since I’m having difficult times shooting any good images of birds presently.

Sandhill crane in flight

There are reasons why I haven’t shot many photos of birds recently, some species have already migrated south for the year, and when it comes to ducks, they all look like female mallards at this time of year. I found out on Friday that the lack of birds may be caused by the weather this summer, but more on that later.

For Friday, I had planned on returning to Lost Lake, but in the afternoon so that I’d have better light to photograph the tiny flowers in. So, I let myself sleep in, then went to the local camera store to look for a backpack that will hold my full-frame camera with the grip on it, and the lenses required for it. I’ll keep my current backpack to hold my EF-S lenses, to use as back-ups, or if the time ever comes that I set-up a camera for time-lapse photography or something similar.

I checked every backpack in the store that looked deep enough to old either the 5D or 7D cameras with the grip attached, and there was something about every one of them that made me cross them of the list of possibilities. It seems that the manufacturers are going for gimmicks, when all that I want is a simple backpack that will hold a pro-level camera and 3 or 4 lenses, a few filters, my flash unit, and tripod. I won’t go into further detail though.

After playing with the flash for macro photography, and trying to shoot holding the camera in one hand and the flash in the other hand, I also checked in the store to see if they carried a simple bracket that would attach to the camera and hold the flash where I wanted it. They had nothing in the store that did what I wanted, but I did find a simple flexible rod, and after thinking about what I wanted, and the things that I already have, I picked up one of the flexible rods.

I didn’t have time to assemble it before I left for Muskegon, but last night after I got back, I did play with it and made it work. It’s a bit on the ugly side, and a bit cheesy, but it works, and that’s all that matters to me right now. I’ll show a photo of it the next time I mount it to the camera to show all of you what it looks like, and how it works.

Now then, weather and the birds. Even though the weather forecast had predicted mostly cloudy skies but no rain for the afternoon, by the time I got to Muskegon, the skies were such that I didn’t want to risk being too far from shelter, as it looked as if it would rain at any time. So, I changed my plans and stopped at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, rather than continuing on to Muskegon State Park, and Lost Lake there. That proved to be a wise decision.

It wasn’t long after I arrived there at the nature preserve that it began to rain, or I should say, sprinkle, as the rain was very light for some time before I was forced to take shelter.

I spent most of my time there in one very small area, shooting various species of birds that were in a mixed flock, I think that some of them were migrating south already.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler

 

Warbling vireo

 

Eastern wood-pewee

Other’s were local year round residents.

Female downy woodpecker

 

Male downy woodpecker

So far, the small birds were all shot with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender. But as the clouds thickened, and the rain increased in intensity, I could see that the ISO setting was going higher all the time. So, I swapped to the 5D with the same lens and extender for the rest of these. It was a good thing that I did.

Black-capped chickadee

You can see how wet the chickadee was by then, apparently, they don’t shed water as well as other species of birds.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

 

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

It amazes me the way that birds are able to find insects that are doing their best to remain out of sight. But, the birds learn where insects are prone to hide, and they have to learn that to survive.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

I like the way the warbler has a look as if saying “What caterpillar?”.

Juvenile Tennessee warbler finding its lunch

Right after I shot that series, the rain picked up enough that I went back to the shelter there at the preserve, and waited for the rain to let up. I amused myself by shooting water drops hitting a small pool of water on the ground at the edge of the shelter, but I know that I can do better, so I won’t bore you with the poor images from this day. It was another learning experience though.

Even though I’ve exceeded the number of photos in this post that I attempt to limit myself to, I have two more to share.

Grey squirrel, black morph

There are two reasons I’m including these, one is that I haven’t photographed many squirrels lately…

Grey squirrel, black morph

…and also to show how well the 5D Mk IV does in very low light when photographing a black subject. I could ramble on about that, but I won’t.

I’ve said it many times, but wildlife seems to be more active, or at least easier to approach, when the weather is less than what we humans consider ideal. I’ve sort of given up trying to photograph wildlife on days such as this one, but now that I have a camera that can produce good images in low light, I’ll go back to the way I used to do things as far as not letting the weather stop me, because I was more concerned with the quality of images that I’d come back with than in getting any images at all.

Anyway, for the rest of the day, the rain continued, sometimes only sprinkles, at other times it was heavy enough for me to stay either in my vehicle, or some other man-made shelter. I didn’t shoot many photos, but I didn’t let the rain stop me either. I’ll have the rest of the photos from the day in my next post.

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


A follow up

This post will at least begin as a continuation of my last post, in words more than in photos.

I enjoyed my day trip to northern Michigan a great deal, despite the crowds in places and the traffic. Most of the crowds were either getting snockered while on a vineyard tour, or spending their money in the gift shops in the area. I did have some almost alone times that made me remember the things that I love about northern Michigan. The fresh air coming from Lake Michigan, often mixed with the scent of pines, or campfire smoke. How it cooled off as soon as the sun went down, even on a very warm day. The wide open spaces, or I should say, seeing hills and valleys when so many of the places that I go on a weekly basis are quite flat.

There are plenty of other parts of northern Michigan that I could have gone to if I had wanted to escape the crowds, although I fear that they are becoming harder to find than they were a decade or two ago.

I am very pleased with both the landscapes and the star images that I shot, and what I learned while shooting them. I thought about trying for better images of the Perseid Meteor shower on Friday night, but two things stopped me, clouds rolling in, and a lack of a good spot near home that would allow me to have an interesting foreground in the frame while capturing the meteors overhead.

When it comes to landscape photography, one thing is becoming emphatically clearer all the time, the importance of scouting locations in advance if possible.

Scenes that are appealing to us as we see them in three dimensions with our eyes often do not produce very good two-dimensional images as seen through a camera. The opposite is also true, what produces a good two-dimensional image may not be the most beautiful scene as we see it in three dimensions. That’s what I mean when I say that I’m learning to see the world through my camera with a wide-angle lens on it.

I meant the last trip as both one to learn new photography techniques, and as a scouting trip of sorts. In some ways, the trip was a complete bust when it comes to the latter. It will probably be a few years before the sour taste of the crowds near Traverse City leave my mouth, and I can bring myself to return to that area. By then, I’ll have to start from scratch again. However, while I only shot a handful of photos during the middle part of the trip, I feel that I saw several areas that warrant future scouting trips to those places.

The good news is that this last trip didn’t hit my wallet as hard as I feared that it would, so I think that I can safely begin planning trips for this fall. That’s even though I have just ordered the last lens that I need to complete my kit when if comes to my move to shooting with a full frame sensor camera, the Canon 24-70 mm f/4 lens. I’ve posted the details about this lens in previous posts as I drooled over it up until this point, so there’s no need for me to repeat myself yet again.

After all, there’s no reason to spend money on trips to northern Michigan if I don’t have the correct lens to photograph the things that I see. And, I’m sure that as much as I’ve loved exploring close-up photography with a wide-angle lens, having the 24-70 mm lens will only add to that with its near macro capability. I should take delivery of the lens before my next day off from work, but I’ll probably just go to the Muskegon area to begin testing it out.

Anyway, the difficult thing for me while scouting is visualizing how a scene will look in different lighting, but I’m getting better at that all the time. So, the more I do, the more I should be able to improve my skills in that department.

One thing that will assist me while scouting is that both the 7D and 5D cameras have GPS capabilities built-in. When I download the images that I shoot with the GPS turned on into Lightroom, Lightroom plots the location where the images were shot in Google Maps. So while scouting, I can shoot photos that I know that I won’t use but they will help me remember the scene, and I’ll have a GPS record of where that photo was shot for future reference so that I can return to the same spot later when the light is better.

Newsflash!

Even though I’ve had the 5D Mk IV for over a month now, I just got around to printing any images that I’ve shot with it, one of the sunset…

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

…and Milky Way…

Manistee River Valley at night

…images from my last post. All I can say is WOW! I have a 27 inch iMac, and the details in the prints go beyond what the iMac can render on the screen! So, not only can’t readers of my blog see how good the 5D is when it comes to resolution and details in an image, I can’t either, when looking at the images displayed on the computer. I may actually have to consider softening some images in the future, especially if I were to photograph a person, or when extreme sharpness in an image runs counter to the mood that I want to convey in the image.

That also means that I’ll have to be more careful in getting the focus exact for a scene, and pay more attention to all the details in a scene when I’m photographing it. Not only does the increased resolution make the good parts of a scene look even better, that same thing works to show the flaws in the images as well.

So, back to scouting trips. They will be modest in distance and duration this fall, but by next summer or early fall, once I have the bill for my hospital stay last spring paid off, I should be free to travel further and for longer periods of time. I’m thinking of taking the week of vacation that I’ll have coming next year and going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to photograph the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and other of the more scenic areas available there.

I’m fired up already! However, I still have a lot of work to do until that time comes. So I suppose that it’s a good thing that the trip will be over a year away as it stands now, if I’m able to swing it then.

I’m not going to list everything that I have to work on, other than learning my newest equipment. Beyond that, it’s continuing to do what I have been doing, learning all aspects of photography and improving on them.

I do have one more thing to say, and this has been building for some time now. The addition of the 5D Mk IV has really fueled a growing feeling within me to expand not just the subjects that I photograph, but also to attempt to become more creative in the way that I approach photography. That may have been apparent before, when I shot photos of downtown Grand Rapids, both during the day, and at night. In fact, it’s become an obsession, where ever I go, what ever I’m doing, I now look at the world around me thinking of ways to photograph what I see. It may not require a top of the line camera to take a great image, but it sure makes it easier. That may be the thing that I love most about the 5D, using it is even easier than using the 7D is, and that allows me to put more thought into the images that I shoot, increasing my chances of shooting a great image now and then.

Maybe becoming more creative isn’t the right way to say what I’m trying to say, as I’m not a very creative person to begin with. What I’m working towards is to share the beauty of nature as well as I possibly can, and at times, that will mean going beyond what I’ve been doing so far. I really like the Milky Way image above, where I combined a bit of landscape photography by including the view of the Manistee River Valley with the Milky Way above it.

You may have seen similar images, that include the Milky Way or just the night sky over some famous landscape features before, so I’m not breaking new ground there. But that’s something that I’ll keep in mind as I’m scouting locations to photograph.

Anyway, time for some new photos. I went out Friday evening last week, and tried once again to get the image of the cup plant flowers that I have in mind, once again, I failed.

Cup plant flowers

But, that one is closer to what I want than my previous attempt was. If they are still in bloom this week, and the weather is good, I’ll try again with the new lens so that I can get closer, yet also move up a little as well, while getting them all in the frame at once. With the 70-200 mm lens, I had to move back away from the flowers more than I wanted to, and that forced me to shoot at a steeper angle upwards than I wanted.

But, as I was trying to get the shot of the flowers that I wanted, I saw several bees on the flowers, so I zoomed in to 200 mm for this shot.

Bee on a cup plant flower

That may be a good example of getting more creative, I really like the out of focus foreground, even though it’s a bit cluttered with too many buds and blooms. Here’s an example of what I typically would have shot.

Bee on a cup plant flower

I was too far away from the bee in both photos, I knew that when I shot them, but it doesn’t matter as much in the first photo the way that I framed it with the out of focus flowers versus the ho-hum look of the second photo.

Here’s a juvenile bald eagle watching a huge flock of swallows as the swallows fed.

Juvenile bald eagle and swallows

And, here’s the zoomed in version.

Juvenile bald eagle and swallows 2

These next three are to remind me to never give up on a sunset. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky during my drive to the Muskegon area, which is why I went to the wastewater facility in hopes of shooting birds. But, just as the sun went down…

Surprise sunset

…a few clouds appeared on the horizon and inland farther…

Surprise sunset 2

…and the color in the sky only intensified after the actual sunset…

Surprise sunset 3

…and it had to have been one of the longest lasting sunsets that I have ever witnessed. I had hoped to shoot the sunset over Lake Michigan, but with no clouds in the sky, I had changed my plans, I shouldn’t have.

Those are the only photos from Friday, so I’ll put this post on pause for the time being.

“M” is for macro

Well, I made it out with the 5D and the new 24-70 mm lens, but I spent most of the day with the 100 mm macro lens on the camera, learning how to get better macro photos. First though, I returned to the cup plant flowers for this shot.

Cup plant flowers

I got everything that I wanted, other than a clear, dark blue sky in the background. I shot that one at about 40 mm, and it’s good and sharp all the way to the corners. Seeing a large number of goldenrod soldier beetles on the flowers, I flipped the 24-70 mm lens to the near macro mode for this one.

Goldenrod soldier beetles

There’s far more depth of field than with my 100 mm macro lens, but the macro function of the 24-70 mm lens isn’t very versatile. That lens will only focus on a narrow band in the macro mode, which really won’t be much of a problem the way I intend to use it. It does seem sharp enough though…

chicory

I tested it straight at 70 mm as close as it will focus…

Milkweed flowers at 70 mm

…then flipped it into the macro mode for this one.

Milkweed flowers in the macro mode

It does get me a bit closer in the macro mode, and with more depth of field than the 100 mm lens. So, it will make a nice addition to my kit, especially on longer walks when I want to travel light.

I also shot a few landscape photos over the course of the day, but between the weather and lack of any compelling scenes to shoot, I’m not going to post any of those. I will say that the 24-70 mm lens is equally as sharp as the 16-35 mm lens that I love, so when the time comes for landscapes, I have all the lenses that I need.

I did look for birds and/or other wildlife, but there wasn’t much to photograph, so the day turned into a test day for me. I used the 100 mm macro lens, the flash unit that I have, and used a cord to hold the flash unit off the camera. That made it tricky to hold the camera still, but I managed.

Goldenrod soldier beetle

Since the fastest shutter speed the 5D will synchronize the shutter and a flash unit is 1/200 second, I switched to the manual mode and dialed the shutter to that setting, the aperture to f/16 for depth of field, and the ISO was set to auto to compensate for the correct exposure.

Goldenrod soldier beetle

There are several advantages to using the flash unit, better lighting for one. I found that whether the sun was behind a cloud, or shining directly on the subject that I was shooting, the ISO came out to 400 unless I dialed in compensation for unusually light or dark subjects, and I did that through flash compensation.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

The strobe effect of the flash unit worked as if I had the shutter speed set much faster, yet my aperture stayed stopped down, and the ISO stayed relatively low.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

Once I had the details worked out, it was simply a matter of finding other flowers to shoot.

Spotted knapweed

 

Buttonbush flowers turning red

 

Arrowhead flower

 

Spotted jewelweed

 

Bull thistle

 

Pokeweed flowers

I really wanted to find a few more insects to photograph, and I thought that I had found a green sweat bee that I’d be able to shoot. I don’t know what tipped the bee off every time I pressed the shutter release, but it flew to a different spot on this leaf as the flash fired every single time.

Green sweat bee avoiding being photographed

The bee would land, I’d get it in focus, press the shutter release, and the bee would be someplace else on the leaf when the mirror in the camera flipped back so that I could look through the viewfinder again. I’ve shot them before, and while they seldom sit still for long, I’ve never had one react to the sound of the shutter like that before. I thought that the duration of the flash was so short that nothing would be able to react to it, but that bee seemed to, I’ll have to do some more testing to make sure though.

I have one more macro shot…

I’ve forgotten what these berries are (again)

…and a B&W image that’s nothing special, other than it was shot with the new lens.

The boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Anyway, I find myself using the manual mode more often all the time, to force the camera into settings that I want, rather than the settings it calculates would be the best for a scene. Part of the reason is because I’ve been photographing subjects that aren’t conducive to letting the camera control the exposure, such as the night photography I’ve been doing. In my limited testing on this day shooting macros while using the flash unit, I can see how much of an improvement that made over my usual macro photos.

Both the 7D and 5D exposure systems work quite well when photographing easy subjects, so I’ll probably continue to use aperture priority most of the time for perched birds and the like, and shutter priority when photographing moving subjects, such as birds in flight. However, both cameras come up with some bizarre settings if I use a flash for any subject. By going to manual, I can control the shutter speed and aperture to get what I want, which is especially helpful when it comes to macros. And, I really like the results that I came up with while using the flash, so that will become my default starting point for macro photography from now on.

It was nice not having to worry about sun angles or shadows when choosing which flowers to photograph, I could concentrate on the flower and the background, and let the flash create the light that I wanted. The only problem that I ran into was in trying to hold the camera steady with one hand while holding the flash where I wanted it with the other hand. But, because of the strobe effect of freezing motion, that wasn’t as much of a problem as I feared it would be while I was looking through the viewfinder. I got a much higher percentage of sharp images than I anticipated I would while I was shooting them. Still, I can see how a bracket to hold the flash off camera would be something very useful and will allow me to hold the camera even steadier to get the exact focus point in the scene where I want it.

Most of the rejects from the day weren’t rejects because of motion blur, but because I moved slightly while pressing the shutter release, and the focus point moved within the scene, causing rejects because what I wanted in focus wasn’t.

It’s now mid-morning on Friday, one of my days off from work. I should have left my apartment hours ago to shoot more photos, but the weather is sapping my motivation. It’s been hot and muggy all summer long, since May in fact, and I slept much longer than usual last night to begin with. Now, a very slow band of light rain has moved into the area, which we need badly. Although it’s been muggy all summer, we’ve had about half the rainfall of a typical summer, so it’s very dry across most of Michigan. So, even though I have a new lens and a relatively new camera, I think that I’ll run some errands today that I would normally take care of before work, then go out this evening if it cools off a little after the rain.

Well, I may not make it out today at all. The band of rain has wobbled around over the mid-Michigan area all day, and it looks like it is going to continue to do so until after sunset. That’s a good thing, we needed a all-day rain such as we’ve had today. But, to finish off this post, I’m going to go back to last summer about this same time for some photos that I’ve never gotten around to using until now for one reason or another.

Peregrine falcon harassing a juvenile gull

I thought it interesting at the time that the other gulls and ducks resting in the same pool of water that you can see in that photo…

Gulls and ducks resting as the peregrine falcon flies overhead

…paid little to no attention at all to the falcon flying over them.

Since I doubt that I’ll shoot many shorebirds this fall, here are some from last year.

Stilt sandpiper

 

Stilt sandpiper

 

Lesser yellowlegs to the right, pectoral sandpiper to the left

 

Pectoral sandpiper

 

American golden plover

And finally, this is the rig that I used to shoot the solar eclipse…

Near total eclipse of the sun, August 21, 2017

…last year.

My tripod and gimbal head

I may have to use that tripod and head for star photography if I can’t figure out a way to get my other tripod head to tilt up as much as I need it to in order to get the portions of the sky that I want in the frame, even though the tripod not shown is better in other ways for star photography.

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


One day get away

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

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

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

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

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

The Milky Way over the Manistee River Valley

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

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

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

Unidentified purple wildflower

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

Purple coneflower

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

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

Train trestle in White Cloud, Michigan

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

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

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

The Pine River from the Peterson Bridge

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

The Pine River from the Peterson Bridge

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

The old Pine River channel from the Peterson Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of Michigan

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

Grand Traverse Bay area

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

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

Grand Traverse Bay and Old Mission Point

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

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

Grand Traverse Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Nodding sunflowers

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

I made it to my destination…

Sign with info

…the Grand Traverse Lighthouse…

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

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

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

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

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

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

 

Hydrangea

 

Boat load of marigolds

 

Boat load of marigolds 2

 

Marigolds

 

Day lily

 

Day lily

 

Raspberry?

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

Waiting for sunset

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

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

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

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

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

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

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

Looking south from the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula

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

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

Manistee River Valley at night

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

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

Manistee River Valley at night

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

Some of the Milky Way

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

Nighttime at Hodenpyl Pond

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Milky Way edited

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

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

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

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


I suppose that it doesn’t matter

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

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

Silver spotted skipper butterfly

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

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

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

Green heron watching another land in the same tree

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

Green heron

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

Color accuracy is another reason to love the 5D…

Ironweed

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

Ironweed

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

English plantain

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

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

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

Misty morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two whitetail bucks

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

Whitetail buck

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

Whitetail buck

In fact, I got two at once.

Whitetail bucks

They could tell that I was there…

Whitetail bucks

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

Whitetail bucks

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

Sandhill cranes and a great blue heron

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

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

Sandhill cranes in flight

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

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

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

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

Bald eagle in flight

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

Coyotes on the run

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

Coyotes on the run

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

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

Sandhill cranes and a green heron in flight

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

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

Grey catbird

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

Grey catbird

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

Grey catbird

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

Wasp killing a katydid

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

Wasp killing a katydid

…as I did in this instance.

Wasp killing a katydid

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

Green heron

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

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

Purple loosestrife

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

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

Sunflowers on a cloudy day

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

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

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


The lost weekend

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

Coyote pup, almost fully grown

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

Almost magic

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

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

Great blue heron and sandhill cranes

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

Sandhill cranes in flight

I did shoot a few good photos on Thursday…

Bull thistle

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

Bull thistle up close

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

Unidentified bee on a Bull thistle

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

Evening primrose

…trying to get the best shot that I could…

Evening primrose

…when I noticed this crown vetch nearby…

Crown vetch

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

Robber fly

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

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

A passing shower

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

Tansy flowers

…when I saw this…

Cloudscape

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

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

Cloudscape

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

Cloudscape

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

Cloudscape

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

Anyway, I did see a few birds.

Northern flicker

 

Bobolink during its molt

 

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

Mute swan drying its wings

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

Mute swan drying its wings

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

Great blue heron riding a thermal

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

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

Bald eagle in flight, carrying a fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

…but these show what bullies the gulls are…

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

…and that the eagle held on to its lunch…

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

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

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

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

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Red-spotted purple butterfly

 

Unidentified skipper butterfly

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

Unidentified skipper butterfly

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

First signs of fall

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

A summer day on the Muskegon State Park beach

…I hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How swallows catch insects to eat

Before I get to the swallows…

Tree swallow in flight

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

Yellow iris in bloom

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

Yellow iris

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

Bladderwort flowers

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

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

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

Bank swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

So, I kept trying.

Bank swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

It even showed its catch off in the next frame.

Bank swallow in flight

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

Tree swallow in flight

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

Tree swallow in flight

This swallow didn’t show off its catch…

Tree swallow in flight

…but it told the world about it soon after.

Tree swallow in flight

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

Tree swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

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

Bank swallow in flight

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

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

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

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

Thirteen lined ground squirrel

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

Thirteen lined ground squirrel

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

Green herons

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

Green herons

It takes them a few seconds to get themselves balanced.

Green herons

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

Green herons

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

Green herons

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

Green herons

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

Green herons

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

Green herons

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

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

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

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