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

Posts tagged “Birds

What should I title this one?

This past week, as I was on my way to the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, or as we refer to it here, simply “going up north”, to shoot a few images of the fall colors…

The Manistee River from an overlook along the North Country trail

…I spotted two adult bald eagles feeding on road kill right on the shoulder of the road. I pulled off to the other shoulder of the road as I passed them, slamming on the brakes as I did. But, as I backed up, they both flew off, leaving me this shot because they didn’t fly very far.

Adult bald eagle

The second eagle flew past me…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…but I didn’t have time to switch the camera to the saved bird in flight setting that I have saved in the camera, so that one was shot with the same settings used for perched birds. The shutter speed was too slow to freeze the motion, but at least I got a fairly good image of the eagle.

I backed up away from the eagles, hoping that they would return to feeding, one did, and I was able to get close enough to it to get this photo of it.

Adult bald eagle eating

I had an idea what would happen next, so I switched over to the saved bird in flight settings, as the eagle took off.

Adult bald eagle in flight

It isn’t easy to track even such a large bird as it takes off, as they rise and fall with each wing beat, and trying to keep their entire wings in the frame as that’s happening meant that I missed on almost all the rest of the photos in the short burst that I shot. I wish that I had led the eagle as it took off a little more so that there was more space ahead of the eagle in that image, but at least I didn’t cut its wings off in that one.

I can’t help it, but I also have to say that the image above would have been impossible if I had been using the 7D Mk II camera. That image was another shot at ISO 25600 to get the required shutter speed needed to freeze the action with the maximum aperture of f/8 that I’m forced to use with the 100-400 mm lens and extender behind it. Seeing that I was able to shoot this with the 5D Mk IV makes me even more happy to have purchased it when I did,rather than waiting longer until it would have been more affordable for me. Getting the entire adult bald eagle in the frame so that it nearly fills the frame with that level of detail makes being broke for a while longer worth it to me.

As the eagle turned away from me, I stopped tracking it with the auto-focus, which was the wrong thing to do, for the eagle turned around, and flew past me in the other direction…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…and I wasn’t able to get a solid focus lock on it as it twisted and turned as it flew to join the other eagle that was still perched in a tree.

A sidenote here, you may have noticed the band on the eagle’s leg. That makes me wonder how old this eagle is, as it’s the first eagle that I’ve seen where I can see that it had been banded at some point. I know that a few eagles are still banded in Michigan, but most aren’t, as they’re no longer an endangered species in Michigan. This eagle was either one that had been banded in an ongoing study of eagles, or is one that’s so old that it had been banded while eagles were still on the endangered species list in Michigan. Since eagle can live for decades, maybe as long as 50 years, it’s quite possible that this is a very old eagle. It’s certainly a fine specimen that looks very healthy, and although the second photo of it in flight isn’t very good, it does show how muscular and powerfully built eagles are.

I tried backing away from the eagles again, but they didn’t return as quickly as they had before. So, I turned around, and went down the road a little way to shoot this photo to warm up for shooting the fall colors later, while hoping that the eagles would return to feed on the carcass of the roadkill.

A warm up photo for later

When I returned to where the eagles were, some one else was pulled off the road, photographing the eagles perched in the trees, so I continued on my way north. I stopped at Peterson Bridge over the Pine River to shoot these photos.

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 1

There are probably too many from this location…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 2

…but I was doing what I still have to do far too often…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 3

….learning how to compose the images that I shoot with wide-angle lenses…

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 4

…while trying to show as much of the limited color in the leaves as there was here.

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 5

 

The view from Peterson Bridge over the Pine River 6

A short distance to the north, I pulled off the main road onto an US Forest Service road for this one shot at 24 mm with the 24-70 mm lens…

The forest beginning to show some color at 24 mm

…then I switched to the 16-35 mm lens for this one.

The forest beginning to show some color at 16 mm

I’d say that the two lenses are equal in image quality, but you can see more distortion in the image shot at 16 mm than the one shot at 24 mm because of the way that the trees seem to all lean towards the center of the frame. In this case, I was going for that distortion, probably because I’m old enough to remember how bad the distortion in older wide-angle lenses was. I also like that effect at times, and this is one of them.

Back on the main road, I pulled off on a side road now and then to shoot these, more to show the brilliant colors rather than to create a truly good landscape image.

Just to show some color 1

 

Just to show some color 2

 

Just to show some color 3

 

Just to show some color 4

As you may have noticed, there was solid cloud cover all day, although I did shoot two images later when a tiny hole in the clouds opened up, which you’ll see later. The clouds meant that I could shoot in any direction at any time, which was good, but I’m not sure how much the lack of sunshine “hid” the colors of the leaves in the distance of some of the images to come. For example, I stopped at the roadside park that overlooks the Hodenpyle Pond, and shot this one.

Overlooking the Hodenpyle Pond, wide-angle

But, the colors on the hills across the pond looked muted to me, so I zoomed in to shoot a series of photos to stitch into this panoramic image.

Overlooking the Hodenpyle Pond, zoomed in view

The hills on the other side of the pond do show up a little better in the pano, but the colors in the pano don’t. I didn’t have very much time to shoot there, as it was, I’d set-up the tripod to shoot a few photos, then have to move to get out of the way of other people who had stopped to admire the view, then after they left, move back into position to try something else. I also had to wait until any people going up or down the stairway were out of the scene before I shot any photos.

My next major stop was right along the side of the road, M 37, just north of the intersection with M 115. This is where I had shot some of the images of the Milky Way during my earlier scouting trip.

Manistee River Valley at night

This is how the area looks during a fall day.

Michigan M 37 as it crosses the Manistee River Valley

I purposely shot that image to show the view from the highway as you get to the Manistee River Valley. I then tried for better images…

The view of the Manistee River Valley wide-angle

And once again, I tried stitching several images together to form this panoramic view.

The view of the Manistee River Valley panoramic view

This was the scene behind me…

More fall color

…and it was here that I saw the only blue sky of the day…

Still more fall colors

…but you can’t see the opening in the clouds in the image, drat. At least a small shaft of sunlight hit a few of the more colorful trees then.

I then spent quite a bit of time driving the back roads in the area, as I’m not that familiar with it, and where the best views were to be found. I stopped at a one lane bridge over the Manistee River to shoot this photo though.

Michigan’s Manistee River in the fall

I hate to admit it, but I was somewhat lost for a while because I was following directions from Google Maps, and what I thought would be a maintained dirt road was in reality a seasonal two-track and there weren’t any road signs at intersections with other two-tracks along the way. I ended up having backtrack and then stick to better roads to make it to my next destination. However, while I didn’t shoot any photos during this period, I did enjoy seeing the fall colors as I was driving.

I finally made it to the destination that I had in mind for this trip, the high rollway observation deck along the Manistee River. The observation deck is also along the North Country Trail, but there’s a parking lot nearby, with just a short walk to the deck.

A short walk through the woods to the observation deck

Even on a Friday, it was a popular spot for people doing fall color tours, so I had to wait my turn to get to the best spot on the deck for photography. While I was waiting, I shot these two.

Waiting on the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

 

Waiting on the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

When I had my chance to set-up at the best spot on the deck, I shot this one.

From the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

I shot several more images from there, but I’m not going to put them in this post. That’s because I hope to return there this coming weekend when there will hopefully be a bit more color and better weather than this week. I would have rather had light rain to really saturate the colors more, or a bright sunny day with a few clouds in the sky than the dull grey overcast of this day.

I made several more stops on the way home, but this is the only photo that I’m going to include in this post.

From the scenic overlook near Cadillac, Michigan

I’m including that one because I shot it with the 70-200 mm lens, not that the lens is any big deal. But, I am learning which lens to use more quickly than I thought that I would. I’m not used to using my short lenses, so it surprised me at how well I chose the correct lens for a scene when I first saw what I intended to shoot. There were only one or two times when the lens that I put on the camera didn’t give me the field of view that I wanted, and had to switch lenses before shooting the scene. Of course that doesn’t include scenes where I knew that I’d want to shoot with different lenses to record the scene in different ways. I did that several times, and I’ve included the version that I liked the best here, rather than including all the images that I shot at a particular location, again, because I plan to go back this weekend.

Also, I made a few stops on Thursday to shoot some fall color scenes…

A yellow border for a dirt road

 

An unnamed small lake near Grant, Michigan

 

The Muskegon River high banks near Newaygo, Michigan

You can see that the weather on Thursday was the same as it was Friday, low, grey clouds. It’s that time of year in Michigan, cool, fall air coming across the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan produces the lake effect clouds that will plague west Michigan all winter long. Sunny winter days are as rare as hen’s teeth in West Michigan, which I’ve whined about every winter.

The good news is that the cool fall weather has killed most of the mosquito population for this year, and with no warm weather in sight, we may be skeeter free until next May.

The bad news is that I was stupid enough to make my quarterly appointments with my dermatologist for this Thursday, and that also means that I have to first go to a medical lab to have blood work done first. On top of that because I’m a truck driver, I must have a physical every other year as a condition of being allowed to drive a commercial vehicle. Since my Thursday was already ruined for the purposes of photography, I went and had that DOT physical done as well so that I’ll be able to continue working and getting a paycheck every week.

It was a very sunny day, in fact, there were no clouds in the sky at all to add any interest to landscape photos I would have shot if I’d had the time to return up north. On Friday, the clouds rolled in at sunrise, and the rest of the day was just as dreary as it had been the previous week, so I didn’t bother returning to any of the places featured in the photos in this post, I stuck around Muskegon instead.

Muskegon State Park, Snug Harbor portion

The rest of the photos that I shot on Friday will go into my next post. Hopefully, the leaves will be at their peak color around here then, but it’s not going to be a good year for color from what I’m seeing so far. I think that it’s because of the drought that we had this summer that many of the leaves are going straight to brown this year.

If nothing else, maybe I’ll be able to find a few birds that only pass through my area twice a year during migration.

Juvenile black-bellied plover

I do have a dentist appointment next week, but at least I made that one for earlier in the morning, so I’ll be able to get out in the afternoon and continue shooting until sunset, if it’s worth photographing.

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

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Some more boring photography talk

Sorry, I can’t help it, there’s quite a bit of news when it comes to photography gear, and about my learning how to use what I have more effectively.

Both Canon and Nikon have recently introduced full frame sensor mirrorless cameras, which are going to be the wave of the future for cameras as we know them. The old familiar DSLR is going to fade away over the next decade, at least that’s how I see things going.

Since mirrorless cameras can be built smaller, lighter, and cheaper by not needing the mirror assembly, that’s a big selling point to begin with. Then, because the rear element of the lens attached to the camera can be mounted closer to the sensor because the designers don’t need to leave room for the mirror assembly, the light coming through the lens doesn’t have to be bent as much to get the lens to project the image onto the sensor. This is particularly true with wide-angle lenses, less so for telephoto lenses. That means that the new wide-angle lenses will be even sharper than the best lenses built so far for traditional DSLR bodies, because the less that the light needs to be bent ass it passes through the lens, the sharper the image will be.

Because of that, both Nikon and Canon have designed new lens mounts to take advantage of that, and I can’t tell you about the new Nikon lenses, but the new Canon lenses are indeed sharper than the older style lenses built for a traditional DSLR mount.

Doesn’t that figure, I just upgraded my wide-angle lenses, and now they are obsolete, sort of. The superior sharpness of the new lenses designed for mirrorless cameras is mostly when the aperture is wide open, and as the lens is stopped down to get a wider depth of field, the advantage of the mirrorless lenses shrinks  to nothing at the apertures typically used for landscapes when everything in the frame needs to be in sharp focus.

Sony has been building full frame mirrorless cameras for some time now, and their cameras are much better than the first generations of mirrorless cameras from Nikon and Canon. However, Sony hasn’t been able to match them when it comes to lenses. A lot of Sony camera users mount other manufacturer’s lenses to their Sony using an adaptor.

So at least for now, I see no reason to think about upgrading from the Canon 5D Mk IV or the Canon 7D Mk II bodies that I’m using now. That’s especially true because Canon put the same sensor as the 5D has in its new mirrorless camera. In many ways, the new mirrorless body would be a step backwards for me, but I won’t list all the reasons for that.

However, I will be watching to see what Canon does with their line-up of mirrorless cameras, if they bring out a mirrorless version of the 5DS R body with the super high-resolution sensor with no low pass filter, I could be tempted, because that would be something that would make dramatic improvements in any landscape images that I shoot. But’s that’s a long way off right now, as I have no idea what Canon is planning on as far as their line-up of mirrorless bodies, or if the even plan on building an updated 5DS R body. And even if they do, it would have to be a lot cheaper than the current 5DS R body before I would consider making such a move. That’s why I’m hoping that they release a mirrorless version of it as they perfect their mirrorless designs in the future. The new Canon mirrorless body is $1,000 less than the 5D Mk IV that I recently purchased, even though they use the same sensor. I hope that the trend continues in future generations of Canon mirrorless cameras.

For right now, I’m going to concentrate on learning to get the best out of the 5D and the new wide-angle lenses I’ve acquired. They have been a big step up in quality over the crop sensor bodies I have been using, along with the EF-S lenses designed for the crop sensor bodies.

The outlet from Duck Lake meeting Lake Michigan

 

Looking north from Duck Lake State Park

However, the biggest improvement that I see with the 5D comes when I use my older telephoto lenses in low-light situations…

Juvenile wild turkey at dusk

…as that was shot at ISO 25600, much higher than I could have gotten away with if I had used the 7D body instead.

It was a dark, dreary, foggy day this spring when I tried to shoot migrating warblers and other small birds the made me decide to upgrade to the 5D. Some of you may remember the post that I did about that day, and how I whined about the poor quality of the images that I ended up with. Well, last Friday was very similar to that day last spring as you can see in this photo…

The Cobb power plant in Muskegon

…right down to the on and off mist and drizzle falling as I looked for things to photograph. By the way, I included yet another photo of the Cobb power plant as I’m planning on recording the work as it is dismantled. I’m not sure what’s going to be done with the land that it’s on, as I’m sure that since it was a coal-fired plant that there’s a lot of environmental clean-up that will have to be done once the plant is gone.

Anyway, here are the birds that I photographed in the very raw conditions of that day.

Downy woodpecker

 

Downy woodpecker

 

White-throated sparrow

All three of those were shot at higher ISO settings, yet there isn’t the loss of detail or color saturation that I gotten when I’ve used the 7D Mk II in such conditions. As a comparison, here’s an image from that dreary day this spring.

Bay-breasted warbler

Forgive me for bragging, but wow, what a difference! Especially when you consider that I used the exact same lens for the birds on Friday as I did for the warbler this spring. The differences in image quality is all due to the camera used, and seeing them side by side here makes being broke for a while longer worth the investment that I made in the 5D.

Here are the other images that I shot in the mist while I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve on Friday.

Fall colors starting

In these, which were also shot at higher ISO settings, the clarity and color improvements of the 5D…

Pokeweed berries

…are also put to good use…

Virginia creeper putting on a display of color

…although I missed the composition in that last photo. I wanted to show the colors in the background as well as the Virginia creeper vines in the foreground, but I should have moved to the left and showed more of the Virginia creeper vines. Oh well, I messed up this one also.

Natural decorations

I liked the way that the Virginia creeper and grape vines spiraled up the spruce tree naturally, like Christmas decorations, but I used a wide-angle lens from very close to the spruce. I should have moved back, and used a longer lens to have gotten a better angle of the scene.

While I usually use the aperture priority mode while photographing birds, I’m thinking of using the manual mode more often, just because that would allow me to change the shutter speed more quickly when I see something similar to the bluebirds bathing from my last post.

Eastern bluebird bathing

The one fly in that ointment is the maximum aperture of the lenses that I’m using now, especially when I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind them as I typically do. Most of the time, I’m starting out at f/8 due to the loss of light from the extender. There’s no getting around that short of purchasing a faster (and much more expensive) lens. But, on a sunny day as when I photographed the bluebirds, I could have pushed the ISO higher to get faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion better. That’s especially true with the 5D, but I could have gone higher with the ISO with the 7D when I had such good light. Just something for me to keep in mind on nice days with good light.

While I’m on the subject of trying different things, on Thursday, I finally got around to testing the new 24-70 mm lens with an extension tube behind it to allow the lens to focus closer than it does without the extension tube.

Assorted lichen on a post

I had to crop off the bottom of the photo, as there was a harsh shadow there caused by the lens hood touching the post because that’s how close that set-up focuses. I deliberately chose a post with only a few widely spaced small lichen to help me judge the depth of field of that set-up. Also, I used the medium length extension tube only, I didn’t test the long tube out. I’m not sure that the long tube would work behind that lens as close as I was when using the medium length tube. I don’t think that it will work for insects because of how close the lens has to be to the subject, but for subjects that remain stationary, I think that this set-up will work every bit as well as my 100 mm macro lens.

This was a similar test shot, but without the extension tube behind the 24-70 mm lens.

Unidentified fungal object

It’s hard for me not to jump forward to the images that I shot this weekend, when I have so many left from last week. So, since I’ve babbled on long enough already, here are the rest of the photos from last week, as I shot a few hints of the fall colors that are showing up around here, and also tried to shoot a wider variety of birds that I haven’t posted many photos of lately.

Ladybug

 

The first hints of fall colors

 

Mute swan

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

 

More fall colors showing

 

White-crowned sparrow hiding

 

Dragonfly hanging out on a nice fall day

 

So it begins

 

More from the Snug Harbor part of Muskegon SP

 

Just a depth of field test

 

Savannah sparrow

 

Savannah sparrow

 

Greater yellowlegs

 

Greater yellowlegs

 

American pipit

I’m really excited about my next post, as I was able to shoot one of my better images of an adult bald eagle in flight as I was on my way to northern Michigan to shoot some pretty good images of the fall colors on display there.

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


Anatomy of a sunset

With conditions similar to last week, although not as extreme as far as the wind, I returned to Duck Lake State Park Friday evening to capture this sunset.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I was going to say that I don’t know how dedicated landscape photographers do what they do, set-up in advance, and get great sun sets or rises behind what would be a pleasing scene even without the colors of the sky being present. However, I do know how they do it, I chose not to do things the correct way Friday evening.

I’m still learning the 5D Mk IV and how it works with my two new wide-angle lenses, so I shot all the sunset images you’ll see in this post handheld. In some ways, I’m glad that I did, because the light that evening was always changing, and there were different scenes that I shot, which I’ll get to later.

I could have set-up in a different spot while using my tripod and I would have gotten an even better image of the sunset at its peak. In the past, I’ve gone so far as to set-up two tripods, one on the west side of the road that runs next to Lake Michigan there at Duck Lake, and the other tripod on the east side of the road, looking out over Duck Lake. But on this evening, there were still too many people who had come to see the sunset, and I didn’t feel safe leaving either of my cameras unattended while I raced under the bridge back and forth to shoot excellent images of the sun sets or rises that I’ve seen there during the times that I’ve shot with two set-ups in the past.

I think that I’ll go back a little, and go through the photos that I shot in the order that I shot them to help to explain my thinking. I had stopped in Muskegon State Park to check the horizon to see if there was a chance that the cloud cover that had been overhead all day would break to reveal a good sunset.

Looking toward the beach and breakwaters at Muskegon State Park

By the way, that’s one of three scenes that I shot with both the 16-35 mm and 24-70 mm lenses to compare the two, and I can see no difference between the two.

Anyway, looking to the south, as I was there, things looked pretty grim as far as there being a good sunset to photograph, but looking to the north, I could see some breaks in the clouds, and even a few patches of blue sky. So, I drove the short distance to Duck Lake State Park, and made another set of test shots to compare the two lenses.

Lens test and a warm up for things to come.

As the light changed, I shot this one, looking to the north.

The beginnings of a good sunset at Duck Lake State Park

I shot this series of three photos as the sun actually set.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

…but, because the color in the sky was in a narrow band at the horizon, I zoomed in a little with each shot…

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

…ending with this one.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

I then zoomed all the way back out to 16 mm for this image.

Sunset looking northwest at Duck Lake State Park

I should have shot a panorama of two images to be stitched together for that view, either that, or I’ll need an even wider lens. But, I am impressed by the field of view of the 16-35 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera versus what I got on the crop sensor 7D.

I thought that there’d be a short period of time between when the sun slipped below the horizon, and when the light from the sun hit the underside of the clouds, so I was headed back to my Subaru when I saw that this had been behind me.

Looking to the east

Seeing that, I wanted to explore that scene further, but a check of the sky looking to the west again is when I saw the scene that is the first image in this post, which I’ll insert here again.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I tried going wider, I tried zooming in more, but that’s the image that I liked the best from the many that I shot in that direction at the time.

I then turned back to the north to shoot this one…

Looking northwest over Lake Michigan

…and then literally ran up the dune that was behind my Subaru in the earlier photo to shoot this one on my way up the dune…

Looking east over Duck Lake

…and this one when I got to the top of the dune.

Looking east over Duck Lake at Duck Lake State Park

By the way, all of these were shot as single images with the 5D Mk IV, to see how well it reproduced the colors of the sunset. These aren’t bad, but I believe that more of the subtle colors would have been shown if I had bracketed three images to create a HDR image. I suppose that I could also bring out more color by using Lightroom, but this was all about learning what the camera is capable of by itself, for my future reference.

Anyway, the display of color in the sky wasn’t done yet, I shot this on my way back down the dune…

From one of the dunes at Duck Lake State Park

…and I shot these three as the colors began to fade.

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

 

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

 

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

These last three are the ones that would have benefitted the most by my using my tripod and bracketing for HDR images.After having viewed these images again, and written what I have about them, now I have decided that what I should have tried was tilting the camera over to the portrait orientation to get even more of the clouds in  some of the scenes, and shot multiple images to be stitched together in panoramas to get the width that I wanted. Sigh, hindsight is always 20/20, and I did think about  panorama while I was there, but with the camera in the landscape orientation. I’m not sure if it would have worked as fast as the clouds were moving and with the waves on Lake Michigan, but I should have at least tested it to see if it would work. I have to keep telling myself these things in the hope that I will remember to try them the next time a similar occasion arrises.

That didn’t happen this week though, I did set-up the tripod and shoot a HDR image of the sunset Thursday evening.

Another Duck Lake State Park sunset

In fact, I shot quite a few HDR images on Thursday while using the new 5D Mk IV camera, here’s the best of the lot.

Muskegon SP colors in HDR

However, I’m finding that I don’t need to shoot bracketed images to blend into a HDR image with the 5D…

Muskegon SP colors in a single image

…as I prefer the single image version over the HDR version.

That’s been the case most of the times that I’ve tried shooting HDR images with the 5D with its expanded dynamic range over the crop sensor 60D and 7D Mk II bodies that I’ve been used to shooting with. Also, the sky ends up looking wonky in HDR images that I shoot with the 5D, along with the fact that the final image looks fake.

Bad HDR image of the fall colors

Anyway, I was using the 5D with the 24-70 mm f/4 so often on Thursday that I grew tired of swapping lenses all the time, so I put the birding set-up on the 7D just in case, and the just in case did happen.

Eastern bluebird getting ready for a bath

I had seen the bluebirds perched on sign posts as I moved from one part of the Snug Harbor area in Muskegon State Park to another area. They all flew off, but I parked there in hopes that they would return, and as you can see, they did. I shot the bluebird above as it bathed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

 

Eastern bluebird bathing

…when a second bird landed in the puddle to join the first…

Eastern bluebirds

…but due to the short depth of field as close as they were to me, I wasn’t able to get them both in focus at the same time. But, when the second one started its bath, I fired away…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I kept an eye on the shutter speed as I shot…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and seeing that it was 1/800 to 1/1000 second…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I hoped that I’d get the amount of motion blur that I hoped for…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…while freezing some of the water drops in the air…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…but I should have gone even quicker with the shutter speed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…to freeze the bird completely in at least a few photos…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…even if the water drops look good…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and of course I thought about switching over to the 5D for more dynamic range so that the shadows in that last photo wouldn’t be as dark as they are. But by then, the birds felt clean enough that they moved off to look for food. Also, these were cropped only slightly, I would have had to crop more if I had used the 5D because of the crop factor of the 7D.

Sorry for so many photos of the bluebirds, but they are usually difficult for me to get that close to since they are quite wary of humans most of the time. They’re such cheerful little birds, and one of my favorite species to watch and hear singing, that I went a little overboard with the photos.

Earlier in the day I had been chasing other species of small birds…

Pine warbler stretching to see

…luckily, this pine warbler stuck around long enough for me to dial in the correct exposure…

Pine warbler looking chunky

…and, this white-breasted nuthatch worked its way towards me as I shot a good many photos of it, ending with this one.

White-breasted nuthatch with an attitude

I’ve already put too many images in this post, and I have plenty leftover from both last week, and from yesterday, so it’s time to put an end to this post before I go out again today to see what I can find now that the morning rain has ended.

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


Eaten alive, drained of blood

Well, I was going to whine about the swarms of sand flies and mosquitos that drove me off the beach in Muskegon State Park this last Thursday, but I won’t spend too much time doing so. One of the many great things about the beaches along the Great Lakes in Michigan is that there are seldom any insect pests to bother a person spending time on the beach. There have been a few times in the spring when I’ve run into the swarms of sand flies in the past, but never before in the fall, and not with the swarms being as bad as what I ran into this week. It’s also rare to find mosquitos on a Lake Michigan beach, as the wide sand dunes that form the beaches don’t offer skeeters any place to reproduce or hide from predators. I go into more detail, but I won’t.

That’s because I’m going to rave about my new Canon 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that I’ve purchased to go with it, the 16-35 mm f/4 and 24-70 mm f/4 “L” series lenses.

Gale warnings on the big lake

Seeing that image here, I’m a bit disappointed, it’s darker here than when I view the image directly on my computer, I’ll have to try another one.

Gale warnings on the big lake number 2

That one’s a bit dark too, if that continues, I’ll have to make a second copy of this type of image and lighten the copy for posting in my blog, something that I’d rather not do.

Editor’s note:

Since I have typed the bit about the images appearing too dark in this post, I’ve viewed them several more times. How good they look all depends on the lighting in my apartment as I view these images. Some of the differences seem to be caused by the new Canon 5D Mk IV, as the images from it seem to be more affected by the ambient light in my apartment than the images from my other camera bodies. I haven’t figured that one out yet though. I think that I’ll put a poll at the end of this post to ask readers how they think that the images look when they view them.

Anyway, I was a bad boy when I shot these, as I didn’t use my tripod. I would have if I had found enough space to set it up, but I was standing right on the edge of the bank. At one point, the sand gave way under one of my feet, and I had to throw myself up the bank to prevent myself from falling down the bank and into the water. Luckily, I was able to prevent any damage to my camera or lens, and even better, keep them out of the sand as I hit the ground.

It’s hard for me to do this, but I’m going to go back to Thursday and show the mundane photos that led up to the point where I shot the images above.

New England asters and a monarch butterfly

It’s too bad that the monarch was in the shade, so here’s the asters without the butterfly.

New England asters

I don’t know what plant this is, but I loved the deep maroon color it had.

Maroon colored plant

While I was shooting this great blue heron…

Great blue heron

…I noticed these three garden spiders in the grass I was looking over the top of to see the heron…

Three garden spiders at once

…it’s been a good year for spiders from what I’m seeing this fall.

I guess that this was the image from this weekend that set me on the path to the landscape images that I started this post with.

Another failed attempt on my part

I was shooting into the sun, and getting lens flare in the frame as I tried to shoot this scene. So for that one, I held one hand so as to shade the front of the lens to prevent the flare. Trying to hold up the 100-400 mm lens on the 5D with the heavy battery grip on it with just one hand was more than I could do, so I missed the composition that I wanted, despite many attempts. I should have faced the swarms of mosquitos and set-up the tripod to get the exact composition that I wanted, but I wasn’t sure that it would be worth it. I think that it would have been…

Sparkles in the late afternoon sun

…as I don’t know what these plants are either, but I loved the way that they sparkled in the sun.

I thought that there was the possibility of there being a good sunset to photograph, so that’s when I headed to the Muskegon State Park beach, and was chased away by the sand flies and mosquitos there.

Sunset over a dune at Muskegon State Park

The sunset was just okay, nothing special, but I could have done better than this…

A ho-hum sunset

…if I would have had an interesting foreground and put more thought into the image, rather than being pre-occupied by fending off hoards of biting insects attacking me.

So, that brings me to Friday. I began at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, hoping to find a few birds, but other than huge flocks of starlings, and the ever-present mute swans…

Mute swans in flight

…there weren’t many birds to be found. I’d say that the wind that day may be to blame for that, but I learned later, it wasn’t.

I amused myself by shooting these photos to pass the time while looking for birds.

Damselfly

 

Viceroy butterfly

 

Ex-buttonbush flower

 

Goldenrod

 

Dragonflies mating

Part of my plan for the day was to check out two other parks near the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve, which I did. One holds some promise, but the only photo that I shot there was this one.

Heavy equipment on top of the stack at the Cobb power plant

The Cobb power plant is shut down, and they are beginning to dismantle it. Here’s a photo of the entire plant that I shot earlier this summer to show how tall the smokestack is.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I have no idea how they got the heavy equipment on top of that smokestack, it’s beyond me.

After checking out the two parks, I stopped at the Snug Harbor day use area of the Muskegon State Park. I began by shooting a few fungi…

Unidentified fungi

I think that this next one…

Unidentified fungus

…opens up to look like this one, but I could be wrong.

Unidentified fungus

I also shot these flowers as I was wandering around…

Aster?

…along with this guy.

Black morph, eastern gray squirrel

I spotted a mixed flock of birds that included both bluebirds and flickers, but as I was trying to get close enough to the birds to shoot any photos, I saw a buttonbush growing in the water of Muskegon Lake. However, all that I had with me was the 100-400 mm lens on the 5D. I returned to my car and grabbed my tripod and the 24-70 mm lens, and returned to where the buttonbush was. However, but that time, the light had changed, and the scene wasn’t what I wanted any longer. So, I sat down on the shore, and waited, eventually getting this image when the light got better again.

The Snug Harbor marsh in Muskegon State Park

I would have liked to have gotten a little lower, but that wasn’t possible, still, I’m happy with what I got by waiting for good light to return, rather than shooting the scene with dull light.

As luck would have it, I had put the 100-400 mm lens back on the camera, stood up, when a bluebird flew past me and landed nearby.

Eastern bluebird

And, it even turned around to give me a cleaner background behind its head.

Eastern bluebird

I also shot these two photos of a flicker, this one to show the shape of the red patch on the back of its head…

Northern flicker

…and this one to show how they close their eyes to protect them as they dig for ants, their preferred food.

Northern flicker

I could have stayed there at Snug Harbor and gotten more photos of birds, but there were swarms of mosquitos following me around the entire time despite the wind. It’s called Snug Harbor for a reason, towering sand dunes between Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan block the winds from the west, the direction that the wind was from on this day. I knew that the mosquitos wouldn’t be able to fight the wind on the beach that day, and I didn’t think that the sand flies would either, so that’s where I went next.

I was right, no flying insect could withstand the wind gusts on the beach, as the gusts were well in excess of 30 MPH (50 KPH) at the time. The waves on Lake Michigan were large, but because it was a gusty wind, not as large as they would have been if the sustained wind would have been higher.

I put the 16-35 mm lens on the 5D, and began wandering around on the beach, shooting this one just to make sure that I had the settings correct.

On the point

Seeing that on the back of the camera told me that I was on the right track, but that I needed to wait until the sun broke through the clouds…

Almost magic light

…and that I would have close to magic light when the sun hit the water in narrow beams.

Almost magic light 2

It was during this timeframe that I shot the two images at the top of this post.

I may have gotten even better images if I had stayed on the beach and fought the wind longer, but I also wanted to get some shots that showed how large the waves were, which you really can’t see from the photos so far. I went to the main beach at Muskegon State Park, where I put the 100-400 mm lens to use to shoot this one.

A windy day at Muskegon

I shot a good number of photos similar to that one, some with the waves breaking over the top of the red structure on the breakwater that you see here. But, I liked that one the best because of the color of the water, the waves crashing into the breakwater, and the gulls flying in formation on such a windy day.

Say what you will about gulls, but they are amazing fliers to be out in the winds this day. And, they make it look easy, when I saw other birds fighting the wind for all that they were worth earlier in the day. I had watched a great blue heron battling the wind, getting blown back in wind gusts, then struggling forward when the wind slacked off a little, only to be blown back again, until it gave up and landed on the nearest solid ground. When I photographed the swans in flight earlier, they were being blown about in the wind also.

Anyway, I took a short break, then decided to go north to Duck Lake State Park to catch the sunset there. I shot these next two in order to warm up and check the camera settings again.

Getting ready for sunset

 

Seeing some color begin to appear

Seeing that, which I shot from my car, I decided that it was time to fight the wind, set-up my tripod, and do things the correct way.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park

This turned out to be another “if only” time, for if only the clouds hadn’t been where they were at sunset, my images would have been even better. As it was, this is the best I came up with as far as color in the sky.

Sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

The wind had increased to the point where it was gusting to close to 50 MPH (80 KPH) by then. I didn’t level the tripod and camera the way that I normally would have, I pushed the legs down into the sand far enough to hold it steady and to level it at the same time.

Also, I made use of one of the free camera bags that I’ve received from B&H Photo recently to carry the 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm lenses with me if I had felt the need to switch to one of them rather than use the 16-35 mm lens. I had to tie the camera bag to the fallen limb that you see in the foreground of the two images above, the camera bag with the two lenses in it was being blown across the sand if it wasn’t tied down. I had thought to take a lens cleaning cloth with me, which I needed to dry the front of the lens off between shots due to the spray from the waves being blown by the wind.

So, even though I knew what was going to happen next, I returned to my car to get out of the wind. Oh, and that reminds me, the temperature was dropping rapidly as the wind was blowing colder air with it. The temperature today is 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than this time yesterday, and that drop in temperature started just before sunset, as I was shooting these images. Fortunately, I had taken a heavy, long sleeve T-shirt with me to put over the light T-shirt I had on all day before this, but I should have brought a sweatshirt or jacket to go with the T-shirt. And, it didn’t help matters any that I was getting wet from the windblown spray from the waves to go with the colder air.

Of course what happened next was that the colors from the setting sun below the horizon lit up the underside of the clouds…

After sunset 1

…I considered going back out into the wind and cold and burying my tripod in the sand again to hold it steady…

After sunset 2

…but I did the best that I could shooting handheld from the inside of my vehicle with the window down.

After sunset 3

These aren’t bad, but the ISO was too high for them to be as good as they could have been had I used the tripod to hold the camera. And, because of the lay out of the area, I couldn’t get a good composition either.

By then, the sand from the beach was being blown around so much by the wind that it looked like snow drifting in the winter. The sting on exposed skin from the windblown sand didn’t feel very nice to begin with, and I didn’t want to expose my camera gear to it any more than I had already. So yes, I settled for less than I could have gotten as far as image quality.

Thinking about that last paragraph since I typed it has me in a bit of a corundum. Maybe I should have used one of my older camera bodies and lenses in the extreme weather as it was on that evening to prevent any damage to my newer and better gear. The images that I would have gotten would be very close to what I did get. And, this goes along with the moment that I described earlier when the sand slid out from under my foot and I fell to the ground to prevent myself from going the other way and into the water.

Stuff happens as we all know, which is why I won’t sell my older gear even though it isn’t as good as what I’m currently using. I could have easily knocked either the camera or lens, or both, out of commission when I fell, and the same could have happened from the wind-blown sand and spray later in the evening. Having my older gear as back-ups is a wise decision I believe. If I were on a trip somewhere, it would be hard for me to replace something that got broken, damaged by the weather, or just quit working, due to both the financial costs and the availability of a replacement lens or camera body in a timely manner.

However, all of my newer photo gear is weather sealed and better suited to such conditions than my older gear, which makes the decision as to what stuff I should risk to get an image more difficult to make. And, knowing that I wouldn’t be getting the very best image that was possible if I used my best gear would make it less likely for me to put the effort into shooting the photos as I should. If I had thought of using my old gear, I probably would have still stayed in my car and shot the same photos rather than face the wind, sand, and spray. I suppose what I use will depend on the exact situation at the time, but it is something for me to keep in mind in the future.

Switching gears somewhat, I did learn a lot from this weekend. For one thing, not all landscape photos have to be shot early in the morning or in the late in the evening, I needed the full sun to bring out the true colors of the waters of Lake Michigan as I saw them at the time, and to bring out the patterns that the wind made on the surface of the water between the waves. So, I’m going back to what I used to do more often, if I love the view, I’m going to shoot it when I see it, then decide later if I could do better at a different time of day.

Also, and here’s where I brag on my newest camera gear, the Canon 5D Mk IV and both of the newest L series wide-angle lenses that I’ve purchased make a huge difference in the quality of the landscape images that I’m shooting. I absolutely love the 16-35 mm f/4 lens as I’ve said before. It’s sharp from corner to corner, and the colors in the images that I shoot with it really pop, as in the days when I shot with Kodachrome slide film. I think that the 24-70 mm lens is as good as the 16-35 mm lens, but I haven’t shot any images that would let me do a side by side comparison between the two lenses. The scenes that I’ve shot with the 24-70 mm lens haven’t been as compelling as the ones that I’ve shot with the 16-35 mm lens. Maybe I’ll have to do this next week. I’ll try to find a scene what I can shoot somewhere between 24 mm and 35 mm, and shoot the scene with both lenses to test them out to see how they compare.

I didn’t know that wide-angle zoom lenses could be that good. In my film days, I used a 24 mm prime lens, which apparently wasn’t very good quality. Both of my new lenses are far superior to it.

And, the 5D Mk IV continues to amaze me even when I’m shooting some of the more mundane photos that I shoot. Purchasing it has left me broke, but it’s worth it, as I love seeing the detail that I get in all the images that I shoot. It has really raised the quality of my images, and not only that, it makes me want to put more effort into shooting the photos in the first place, because I know what the camera is capable of producing when I do things the right way, and put some thought into the images I’m shooting.

I’ve seen incremental increases in image quality as I’ve purchased better equipment in the past, but nothing has made as big of an impact as moving up to the full-frame sensor of the 5D.

The downside to that is that I have a harder time motivating myself to shoot more mundane images. This is something that I have to work on. I’m not always going to have great, or even good lighting. The subject matter may not always be great, but it may be something that many people may find interesting.  And in many cases, since I’m not interested in shooting mundane photos, I don’t even track a subject with the camera to shoot any images so if the subject does do something that would be worth recording, even if in a poor image, I’m not prepared to record it.

Anyway, as I said earlier in this post, I’m including a poll that I hope people take the time to click. There’s not much point to me continuing to blog and rave about how good some of my images are if the people seeing the photos and reading my blog don’t have the best view of the images in my post as they could have. So if you could please take the time to answer this short question, I’d appreciate it.

To help people make the decision, I’ve brightened this version of the very first image in this post by 1/3 of a stop…

Gale warnings on the big lake lightened

…and here’s the original version again.

Gale warnings on the big lake

I have to say that the original version looks better full size and at full resolution on my computer. However, within this post, the lightened version looks better. I don’t know why it is, but now that I’ve reviewed all the images in this post, and others from previous posts, all of the images shot with the 5D appear darker in my blog than when I view them in Lightroom. Maybe it’s because of the site of the original files from the 5D? It produces image files almost twice as large as I get from the 7D, while the number of mega pixels is only half again as large as the 7D. Anyway, it’s something that I need to keep in mind and work on in the future.

 

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


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!


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!