Well, 2017 started on an optimistic note, nary a cloud in the sky at dawn when I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.
But as you can see, things are still frozen over around here, although we’ve lost most of the snow that’s fallen so far this winter.
I had high-hopes that I’d be able to test out the new 400 mm lens in good light, and I suppose you could say that I did, but not in the way that I had hoped. Although I tried very hard, I could not get close to a perched bird, not even one of the many starlings there.
I couldn’t even get close to a flying gull.
It’s a pretty pathetic day when that’s the best that I could do as far as flying gulls.
I titled one of my recent posts “I remember my failures”, but I also remember my successes, and I was getting some very good photos last fall before the clouds, snow, and cold set in for the winter, like this one.
It’s very difficult to match that photo when there are few birds around to begin with, and the few species of birds left for the winter are busy trying to stay alive, and don’t have time to pose for me. I think that I need an attitude adjustment, each photo that I shoot doesn’t have to be better than the one that I shot before. Still, there were several times on Sunday when I considered going somewhere else in hopes of finding birds that I could get closer to.
I was even wondering if it was worth it to go to the wastewater facility as often as I do, because I know that I can get better photos at other locations, even if the photos are of fewer species of birds. But, there is one reason for me to keep going back to the wastewater facility, to get photos of species of birds that I have never photographed before. On Christmas Day, I finally got photos of a northern shrike for example.
Anyway, I was a bit bored despite the good light on Sunday, so I decided to test out the new 400 mm lens on a few of the Canada geese flying in and out of the grassy cells, mostly because I couldn’t find any other birds to shoot.
I’m happy to report that the new lens does very well, when I get everything right. The 100-400 mm lens is easier to use, but the 400 mm lens can produce sharper images of birds in flight as you can see. I’m finding that there’s more of a learning curve to the 400 mm lens though.
I shot those photos while I was as close to a huge flock of geese as I could get without causing them to all take off as a flock, and picking and choosing which small flocks to shoot as the smaller flocks came and went.
What I wanted to do was find a way to photograph the entire flock, which numbered in the hundreds, I even shot a few photos as I would a landscape, with a very short lens, but then the geese were nothing but brown lumps in a brown field. I was scanning the flock with the 400 mm lens, trying to find a way to convey just how many geese there were there, when I saw a bit of orange in the flock. At first, I dismissed it as a mallard, but it didn’t look like it was the bill or foot of a mallard, so I kept watching that spot.
That image was cropped, and I don’t know if you can pick out the orange bill of the greater white-fronted goose or not. I still wasn’t sure if I was seeing a mallard or some other species of duck, so I continued to watch that spot, and eventually, two greater white-fronted geese stepped out into the open, here they are at 400 mm and not cropped.
I cropped this next one, also shot at 400 mm.
While those images may have been good enough for me to use in the My Photo Life List that I’m working on, I wanted better photos, so I put the 2 X tele-converter behind the 400 mm lens for these two photos.
Not great, but there’s no doubt that they are greater white-fronted geese, and not a domesticated species that had escaped into the wild. Another species that I can cross off from my list, not a bad way to start the new year.
I would have preferred that I could have isolated just the greater white-fronted geese with none of the Canada geese in the frame, but I had to take what they gave me. Most of the time they were out of sight within the huge flock of Canada geese.
Not to brag, but I still have excellent eyesight, several other serious birders had checked out the flock of Canada geese without seeing the two greater white-fronted geese in the flock. I made the mistake of telling one of the other birders of my find, and it wasn’t long before there were several other cars surrounding me. So, I moved down to the next cell, and found one northern pintail duck hanging out with the mallards and Canada geese.
The pintail is to the left in the frame, I wanted a better photo, but that’s the best I could do.
A little later, I was scanning another portion of the flock of geese, when I spotted another northern pintail, see if you can pick it out of the flock.
Here’s the 800 mm and cropped version.
So, I guess that you could say that I did test out the new 400 mm lens, using it as a 800 mm manually focused lens to pick out individual birds out of the flock. Manually focusing is a pain, especially when the bird is moving, even if the movement is slow.
But, I did have good light, which helped, that’s one of my better photos of that species because I got the green of its head and its small crest in that image. I also got one of my better photos of a gadwall duck.
I’d rather not post photos of bird’s butts as they fly away from me, but there are times when I have little choice.
Maybe someday, I’ll get a really good photo of that species.
The same holds true of the kestrels…
…they’re so small and wary, that I find it impossible to sneak up as close to one as is required for a good photo. You can see that he had already spotted me and was watching intently to see if I’d try to get closer. As I was trying to switch to bird in flight settings, he took off before I could.
Here’s the last three photos from New Years Day.
I knew none of those would be great portraits, it was the light on the water in each photo that made me decide to shoot those.
So, that’s all of my photos from New Years Day, unless I were to bore you with a bunch of photos of the Canada geese in flight, and I’ve already put enough of those photos in this post.
Proofreading this post has made me realize just how spoiled I’ve become, both in the subjects that I shoot, and in the quality of the images that I get. While other than the greater white-fronted geese, the birds in this post may be very common for me to see, they aren’t for most people. And as far as image quality, the Canada geese in flight photos from this post show just how far I’ve come as a photographer the last few years. They’re sharp, in focus, and most of all, exposed properly so that you can see the details in their feathers, both under and on the tops of their wings.
Some of that is due to better equipment, using the 7D Mk II rather than the 60D, and better lenses, but most of the improvement has been because I’m learning how to get the photos that I’ve always wanted.
Probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that every piece of photo equipment has certain quirks in the way that it operates and performs. I could easily do an entire post about the quirks that I’ve found with my gear, but I’ll give you a couple of examples. The 100-400 mm lens shows a wider depth of field at similar settings than the other three long lenses that I own, while the new 400 mm prime lens requires 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in exposure compensation than my other lenses. I have no idea why those things are true, but they are.
In the past, I’d fight those quirks, thinking that I could force the equipment to perform exactly like the textbook says it should perform, but I’ve learned to accept those quirks and set the camera accordingly. If I’m using the 100-400 mm lens, I simply open the aperture one stop to get the depth of field that I want for an image. If I’m using the 400 mm prime lens, I add that 1/3 to 2/3 stop more light in the exposure compensation to get to the same exposure as my other lenses.
That may be the most important photography tip that I can pass along, learn your equipment and how it operates. Just because some one else uses certain settings to get a great image doesn’t mean that you’ll get the same results at those same settings.
Anyway, after the fairly nice day on New Years Day, we’ve been back in the deep freeze with almost constant snowfall. The snow hasn’t added up to very much, since it’s all been the light, fluffy lake effect snow, but with the clouds and the cold, I haven’t been out at all this week. I even volunteered to work Monday, which is normally a day off for me.
The forecast for this coming weekend is the same, cold, cloudy, and more light snow. So, I guess that I’ll have to fill this post out with photos from last summer and fall. That leads me to one last (for this post) comment on photo gear. Recently I said that purchasing the 300 mm lens was probably a mistake, after giving it more thought, I’ve changed my mind. While it may not be as good for birds…
…as either of my newest lenses, it’s an excellent lens for shooting subjects very close to me, such as flowers.
That lens is also excellent for insects as well.
Up close, the 300 mm lens is as good as any lens I own, it’s only at distances more than 25 feet that its performance begins to drop off. So, when I go somewhere such as Aman Park or Loda Lake to photograph flowers, and of course the insects on the flowers, I can take the 300 mm lens since it’s like a long-range macro lens. The extra distance that I can shoot insects from with the 300 mm lens versus the 100 mm macro lens means that I can get the shot without spooking the insects as I would if I used the macro lens. And, while the 300 mm lens may not be my best lens for birds, it does an acceptable job on birds.
That leads me another one of those quirks I was writing about earlier. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be at least as good as the 300 mm lens at close distances, but in the limited number of times I’ve tried the 100-400 mm lens out on very close subjects, it hasn’t been able to match what I can do with the 300 mm lens.
However, flowers and insects are still several moths away, and thinking about photographing them only makes the current weather outside more miserable, so I’d better end this post now before I whine about the weather even more than I already do.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!