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

Posts tagged “Flowers

A focus on flowers

It’s been a cool, very wet spring here in West Michigan. Too many of my few days off from work have been total washouts due to rain. Last Thursday was much the same, no matter when I get up on my last few days off, it seems as though the rain is just moving into the area when I check the radar, no matter what the forecast said the night before.

With rain just starting to fall, I had some errands to run, so while I hoped that the rain wouldn’t last long, I loaded my camera gear into my Subaru to run the errands. I thought maybe the rain would end early, and I’d be able to go somewhere to chase birds, but that didn’t happen. However, when I stopped at the bank to take care of some business, I noticed this domesticated viburnum bush there.

Domesticated viburnum?

That was shot with my 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm, as I was trying for as much depth of field as I could get. I probably looked like an idiot out there in the light rain trying to get the best composition possible, but I no longer care what people think of me, which helps.

On my way to the surplus bread store to pick-up a loaf of bread, I remembered an image posted by Allen who does the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, a must read in my opinion, of some creeping phlox that I really liked. I also remembered that after seeing his image, that creeping phlox had been planted at a local church on my way to the bread store, so I stopped to shoot this.

Cascades of color, creeping phlox

That was shot with the 24-70 mm lens, set at 31 mm. I used the same lens for this old water tower on the grounds of a Christian hospital that I’ve been meaning to shoot for years.

Historic water tower in Cutlerville, Michigan

There’s also a chapel on the grounds of the hospital that I thought that I’d like to shoot, but upon closer inspection, it’s in very poor condition, and I think that they’re beginning the process of tearing it down.

I stopped at the local park near me to shoot this, also with the 24-70 mm lens.

Dame’s rocket flowers in a sea of green

I went back to the 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm for this one.

White pine flowers

I switched to the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender for these two, as I didn’t want to lay down in the puddle surrounding this dandelion to get the images.

Dandelion seeds

I’m not sure which of these two I prefer, so I’m posting both.

Dandelion seeds

My final stop of the day was at the local camera store to pick-up more ink for my printer. While I was there, I also tested out Canon’s 35 mm macro lens.

That lens is interesting, it’s small and light, and has a built-in LED light in the front of the lens to illuminate whatever subject that you’re shooting. I thought that the built-in light was just a gimmick, but after trying the lens out in the store, it showed much more promise than I thought that it would. I had also brought my 100 mm macro lens in the store with me so that I could shoot photos with it to compare the two macro lenses. The 35 mm lens with the light on it allowed me to shoot some very sharp photos in the rather dark store. When I tried to duplicate those photos with my 100 mm macro lens, the first thing that I noticed was that my shutter speed got significantly longer, and I was only able to get one sharp image, the rest were all blurry due to camera shake. Also, the ISO increased dramatically when I used my existing 100 mm lens compared to the 35 mm lens with the built-in light.

So, the built-in light definitely helps a great deal, my estimate is that it adds three to four stops of additional light on the subject, at least in the test photos that I shot.

It’s an EF S lens, meaning that it only fits crop sensor camera bodies such as my 7D Mk II, which is one reason that I never gave that lens much thought before. Now that I have the full-frame 5D Mk IV, I thought that I’d only purchase lenses that would fit on it, but now I’m not so sure.

Before I go on any longer at this point, let me throw in a number of images of columbine flowers that I shot the day after the photos so far.

Columbine flower take 1

 

Columbine flower take 2

 

Columbine flower take 3

 

Columbine flower take 4

 

Columbine flower take 5

I shot those testing different sources of lighting, and different angles to get different backgrounds, all part of my attempts to get better, more artistic images of flowers and other macro subjects. They were all shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D Mk II body, only because I’ve more or less dedicated one of the 7D bodies to macro photography, even though the 5D Mk IV would probably have resulted in even better images.

My last weekend off has left me much to ponder over the coming weeks, as I try to figure out various options that will allow me to shoot the images that I have in mind.

One thing has become clear to me, going to a wider angle lens may not produce any more depth of field over a longer lens, as depth of field also changes with the distance between the camera and the subject. With a wider lens, you have to move closer to the subject to make it as prominent in the image as desired, and when you move closer, the depth of field is reduced also, leaving almost exactly the same amount of a scene in focus as with the longer lens. In fact, there may be depth of field advantages to going to an even longer lens, and moving away from the subject. I’m afraid that using focus stacking software is the only viable way to get more depth of field for the images that I have in mind.

However, that’s not easy either, as there can’t be any motion between the images shot to stack in the software, meaning a tripod has to be used. That’s problematic when shooting flowers outdoors, when even the slightest breeze will move the flowers around in the frame. I suppose that’s why the true masters of macro photography shoot indoors for the most part.

I guess that I’ll never be a true master of macro photography then, as I’m not willing to pick wildflowers or bring other subjects found outdoors home and build elaborate sets to go with the things I found outdoors. I’ve mentioned it before, but I watched a video of some one who built a pond in their home to use as a set for a frog that they obtained by ordering it online. The images that they shot of the frog were stunning, but I’m not willing to go that far, and I prefer to shoot the things that I see in nature around me.

Another thing that’s becoming clear to me is that I’m on the right track in the way that I’m approaching photography these days. When the weather and other conditions are suitable for shooting birds and other wildlife, I do so, and give me a day with good light and light winds, I shoot mostly flowers and all but ignore the birds, other than to listen to their songs as I’m engaged in setting up and shooting flowers. On the same day as I shot the columbine flowers, I also shot these images of wild lupine.

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

None of those were all that special, but they do reflect my mood at the time, happy for some good weather for a change, and basking in the beauty of the lupine. I did keep an eye out for a Karner’s blue butterfly, an endangered species that is associated with lupine plants, but I didn’t spot any.

Now then, here comes another series of photos…

Unidentified flowering objects

…as I often begin by shooting a group of flowers to help me get the exposure correct…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…but insects distract me from the flowers…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…especially this insect which was more purple in real life than the images show…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…but after the insect left, I got the shot of the flower I thought was the best I could do.

Unidentified flowering object

Now then, time for some more boring talk about photography gear, and pulling various things from this post so far together.

Since the 35 mm macro lens with the built-in LED light is a bargain, and my testing in the store proved to me that the LED light could make a difference between getting the shot or missing it, I think that I’ll purchase one in a few months. That will require a few more changes in the way that I approach macro photography though, as the very short working distance between the 35 mm lens and the subject makes it close to impossible to use when photographing insects.

That may not be a bad thing though, as I really could have used an extension tube behind the 100 mm macro lens while I was shooting the purple pollinator, whatever it was. Readers may not remember this, but last year I was set-up with an extension tube behind the macro lens to photograph dandelions when a tiny green bee landed on the flower I was shooting. The fact that I was ready by accident lead to some very good images of the bee, better than I’d ever shot before.

When photographing birds, I’ve learned to use both the 5D and 7D in an effective combination that allows me to get shots that I probably would have missed if I weren’t using both cameras. The same applies to when I’m shooting landscapes with one camera body, and other subjects with the second camera. There’s no reason that I couldn’t do the same thing while I’m shooting macros.

Since the 35 mm macro lens will only fit on the 7D, I could use that for flowers, making use of the built-in LED light for that purpose. I could also have the 5D set-up with the 100 mm macro lens and extension tube to shoot larger than life-size images on the 5D if an insect comes along. I’m just afraid that once I begin using the 5D for macro photography more often, its better color reproduction over the 7D will make me want to use the 5D all the time. Although, the difference in color reproduction is negligible in very good light, as this image shot with the 7D shows.

Red honeysuckle

It’s only in low light when I’m too lazy add lighting to macro photos shot with the 7D that image quality suffers.

Unidentified flowering objects

 

Unidentified flowering objects

However, it would have been much easier to shoot the images of the columbine while shooting up at the flowers with the much shorter and lighter 35 mm macro lens, and the built-in light would have been very useful as well. It wasn’t easy to get under the columbine flower with the long, heavy 100 mm macro lens, and hold steady enough for sharp images while I shot them.

The homemade macro lighting rig that I built and is still in development can be quickly and easily be moved from one camera body to the other, as one of the things that I added to it was a quick-release clamp that fits the quick-release plates that I have installed on all of my cameras. I do have to find a better cold shoe or other method of attaching my flash unit to the rig though. Hopefully, I’ll have the lighting rig sorted out soon, as it’s worked great so far.

I have more flower photos, but for right now, I’m going to throw in a few photos of an American kestrel that I shot earlier this spring.

Male American kestrel in flight

 

Male American kestrel in flight

 

Male American kestrel in flight

 

Male American kestrel in flight

I’ve held on to those for months, hoping that I’d shoot better images of a kestrel. That may happen someday, but these will have to do for the time being.

Two more things I should mention before ending this post. First, I’m in the middle of the change in schedules for work, and it’s going to take me a week or two to adjust to this new schedule.

Second, and more important, is that I’m going to have to find some new places to go to shoot photos. Because of all the snow we received last winter, and the excess rain so far this spring, the water level of Lake Michigan has risen to set a record for the month of May. Because Muskegon Lake is connected to Lake Michigan, its level has also risen, to the point where most of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is flooded. The same applies to the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park, and the hiking trail back to Lost Lake, at least the portions where I used to shoot the most photos are flooded.

I need to find some higher ground for the summer, and probably well beyond. The Muskegon County wastewater facility is still a viable option, but only for a few birds and flowers over the summer months, there isn’t the variety that I’d prefer to photograph. Oh well, I’ll take this as a challenge, and as a way to expand the scope of things that I photograph.

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


Another quickie

This will be a quick post of a series of images of a mute swan that I shot as she chased an interloper away from her nest.

Female mute swan starting after an interloper

The female must have made a poor choice in mates, usually the male will chase any intruders away, but he left it to the female.

Female mute swan starting after an interloper

I thought about zooming out to keep both swans in the frame…

Female mute swan starting after an interloper

…but this was my chance for close-ups of a single swan in motion.

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

I also thought about going to a faster shutter speed, but I didn’t really have time to do so…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…and I like the amount of motion blur that’s in these images…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…while freezing the action enough so that the swan’s head and eye are good and sharp.

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

I may have cut off her wings slightly…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…but I was concentrating on keeping the single focus point where it needed to be…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…while following the action.

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

 

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

 

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

 

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

With the chase over, I couldn’t resist shooting this photo.

Female red-winged blackbird watching the action

With the female swan off chasing the intruder away, the male went to the nest to make sure that the eggs were protected, I’m hoping to see cygnets soon.

Mute swan eggs, along with the male swan’s foot for size

Here’s the male on the nest, I was worried that he may come after me, but he didn’t.

Male mute swan ready to protect the eggs

I was a little surprised that the male didn’t cover the eggs immediately, but when the female returned, I learned something.

Both swans on the nest

After carefully inspecting the eggs as you can see in the photo above, she spent several minutes drying herself off before finally settling back down to cover the eggs. That makes sense after I had watched her, the water is still cold and may have harmed the eggs if she had gotten them wet. Once the female had settled back down on the nest, the male hung around, picking up some more dried reeds and dropping them where the female could reach them, and she used them to fortify the nest, and to make herself more comfortable while she incubates the eggs.

Of course I have no way of knowing how old these swans are, but I’ve found it odd that the male doesn’t stick closer to the nest than he does. In my visits to the area, he’s often completely out of sight, leaving the female completely alone, which I’ve found odd from having watched swans before. It was also odd that he didn’t chase the intruder away also.

I do know that a pair of swans built a nest in the same general area last year, and that eggs were laid in the nest. However, that nest was abandoned with the eggs still in it. So, I wonder if these are two very young swans just learning how to be parents? Also, I don’t know if this is the same pair as the one that abandoned the nest last year.

One quick personal note, I’ve made the final payment on my medical bills from my hospital stay two years ago. That’s a relief. That means that I can begin saving money for the fall vacation that I have scheduled, which I’m really looking forward to, as it will be my first vacation in three years!

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


Same photos, a lot more words

This post will be my thoughts on photography, with no, or very few new photos, so most of you reading this will probably want to skip this post.

I began my last post with this image of a white-throated sparrow, and there was a very important reason for that.

White throated sparrow

That was shot with the Canon 5D Mk IV, 100-400 mm lens, with a 1.4 tele-converter behind it. That set-up has a maximum aperture of f/8.

There are times when I start drooling over the thought of owning one of the even longer Canon super telephoto lens, say the 600 mm f/4 lens which sells for $12,999 or perhaps the 400 mm f/2.8 lens, which is a bargain at $11,999. The thing is, neither of those lenses would have gotten that image of the sparrow, as neither will focus as close as the sparrow was to me.

I’ve read articles, watched videos, and done other research on those very expensive lenses, and the lengths that people have to go through to photograph small birds is ridiculous, like stacking extension tubes behind those lenses to get them to focus a little closer to the subject, which then limits how far from the subject one can be and still shoot a photo. You’re stuck shooting photos of subjects within the narrow focusing range of such a set-up.

It isn’t just the focal length that makes me wish for one of those lenses from time to time, it’s also the wider maximum aperture. Not only would that allow more light into the camera, meaning that I could shoot at a lower ISO setting, but it would also limit the depth of field more, causing better separation between the subject and the background.

That may be the case with larger subjects shot at a longer distance, but it doesn’t apply to the sparrow photo above. If you look at the sparrow’s shoulder, it is already going out of focus due to the shallow depth of field, even at f/8, I could have gone to f/11 or even f/16 and still have gotten good separation between the sparrow and the background, for the sparrow’s tail is completely out of focus.

You can’t really see it in the reduced quality JPEG image above, but the amount of detail in the sparrow’s feathers in the original RAW file, or the print that I made of this image, is beyond what the average person viewing this image is probably going to notice. Shot at ISO 2500 with the 5D, there isn’t much noise in this image either, at least not so much that the average person would notice it. If the amount of noise was objectionable, it could be removed easily in Lightroom at that ISO.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that I already have the best set-up that I can get  to produce very good images of smaller birds, and that there’s no reason for me to continue drooling over those longer, expensive lenses, that I’ll never be able to afford any way. It also means that unless I want to impress other photographers rather than the average person, that the cameras that I’m using now, the 5D Mk IV and 7D Mk II, are all that I’ll ever need. That more or less applies to lenses as well, it’s better to get closer to the subject than to rely on longer focal length lenses to get the image, as atmospherics come into play with long lenses at greater distances.

Everything that I’ve said so far also applies to this image from my last post.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

Yes, he was on one of the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but that image is too good not to use. The other photos of him as he approached the feeder a little closer in steps as he decided whether or not I posed a threat to him are also good.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

The background isn’t quite as out of focus as I’d like, but it isn’t bad, and the emerging leaves near the grosbeak tell you that this image was shot in the spring, so I like this shot.

Now then, back to photo gear. It becomes more apparent to me all the time that one of the biggest things having to do with image quality is knowing your equipment inside out and upside down. The combination of cameras that I’m using now, the 5D Mk IV and the 7D Mk II make this easier because the controls on both bodies are almost identical. I don’t have to fumble around and remember how to set each of them, it’s becoming automatic, my fingers and thumbs know from muscle memory where the controls I need to adjust are. I’m to the point now where I can use either body at night in almost total darkness because I know exactly where the buttons and dials that I need to use are located without even looking at the camera.

That was made clear to me when I looked at one of the new Canon mirrorless cameras in the store. I was at a complete loss how to set even the most basic functions because that camera is completely different that the ones that I’m using now. The salesman had to give me instructions on how to make the changes that I wanted to make. I’m sure that it wouldn’t take me long to learn a new body, but why should I?

As I said, unless I’m trying to impress pixel peepers, what I’m using now is more than good enough, as I hope that my images show.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

I’m thinking about reviving a second blog that I was using to post my best images in, and posting my best full resolution images there so that viewers will be able to see the details in a bird’s feathers, or…

Unidentified purple flower

…in the flowers that I photograph.

One of the things that’s helping me to improve my macro photos is using one of the 7D bodies that I have and leaving it dedicated to macro photography. The rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit also helps, and in addition, I’ve begun using the LED light that I have on sunnier days when the flash is too much, but there are still shadows that need to be filled.

To be honest, the LED light didn’t help much when I was using a 60D body the same way, dedicated to macros, due to that camera’s lack of dynamic range. The 7D may not be able to match the 5D’s dynamic range, but the LED light seems to be enough to kill shadows with the 7D, so I’ll stick to that for now. And by the way, I’m shooting macros in the manual mode these days, and I often opt for manual focus as well, as with the photo of the purple flower above.

My basic settings are 1/200 second at f/16 to prevent camera shake and still get the depth of field required. If I’m using natural light or the LED light, I use auto ISO and let the camera set the exposure by adjusting the ISO. If I’m using the flash, then I find it best to set the ISO manually so that I can control the output of the flash better.

When it comes to manual focus, I try to nearly fill the frame with the subject, and that’s usually close to the minimum focus of the macro lens. However, auto-focus doesn’t seem to work well near the limit, so I set the lens manually, then move myself into position where the subject is in focus.

However, I think that what has helped me improve my macro photos the most is that I seldom try to shoot them on a windy day any longer, unless I have to. I seldom go looking for opportunities to shoot macros on windy days, and instead, on calm days, I’ll devote much more time to macros than to chasing birds. I miss a few flowers because of that, since some flowers are done blooming by the time that I get a day off from work and it’s calm enough to shoot macros.

Okay, I said that I’m very happy with the gear that I have now, and that I see no reason to upgrade any of my existing cameras or lenses. However, I’m leaning towards purchasing a fish eye lens, even though most photographers consider them to be a novelty lens. Canon makes a 8-15 mm true fish eye lens, which has a 180 degree field of view at 8 mm. This is what you get with the lens at 8 mm on a full frame camera.

Testing a fish eye lens

Sorry, I didn’t remove the lens hood as I’ve never shot with such a wide lens before, so the lens hood was captured in the shot. I was about 6 inches away from the package of socks, which is what intrigues me about this lens.

I’m not a huge fan of the circular image produced by that lens, but it can also produce rectilinear images as well as the circular ones, as this next image shows.

 

Testing a fish eye lens

Using Lightroom, I can correct the distortion even more if I want to, but I don’t have an example of that worth posting.

I like the idea of being able to get as close as 6 inches away from a subject and still get everything in focus due to the large depth of field of a lens that wide. By the way, those two were shot a f/4 because I wanted to see the depth of field of that lens wide open.

It is a novelty lens, not really suited to landscapes or interior photos the way that most people use a fish eye lens. I think that it would work well for flowers, lichens, and other small things seen in nature where I have a hard time getting everything in focus using my 100 mm macro lens. And, that lens will also work on the crop sensor 7D, where it would become a 12-24 mm lens, and I’d use it for the same types of subjects on the 7D, but it would also be useful for landscapes on that body at times.

I’m sure that there will be a huge learning curve with that lens as I learn to balance the field of view, depth of field, and the distortion inherent in a lens that wide. But, I have seen a few nature photos shot with a fish eye lens, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I’ve tried to duplicate those photos with my 16-35 mm lens, but its close focusing ability is a foot, and I’ve not been happy with the results. One thing that I’ve learned is that when it comes to extreme wide-angle photography, every mm of focal length and every mm of distance between the camera and the subject make huge differences in the final image produced.

I can also play around with cropping a rectilinear image from a true fish eye image as produced by this lens, I’d guess that you’d say that I’m excited about the possibilities.

The 8-15 mm fish eye lens would also come in handy for night photography of subjects such as the Milky Way, and star trails as well.

Since it is a novelty lens of sorts, a few of the people who purchase it aren’t happy with it, and sell them without having really used them much. I may pick-up one of the slightly used copies that are often available, and save a few hundred dollars on it that way.

I should add that this new found focus on ultra-wide angle photography is due to 16-35 mm lens that I purchased a couple of years ago. I still love that lens as much or more than any other that I own, even though I haven’t had much of a chance to use it lately. I haven’t been shooting many landscapes lately, and the few that I have shot, I’ve done so with the 24-70 mm lens.

It may sound funny since I’ve had the 24-70 mm lens for about a year now, but I’m still learning that lens. Heck, I’m still learning the 7D Mk II, and how to get the best from it. Of course that applies to the 5D Mk IV as well. But that is something that I absolutely love, learning that is, and seeing my images continue to improve over time as I do learn my equipment inside out and upside down.

Changing gears a bit, I’ve been thinking of getting the Sigma 150-500 mm lens out again because it’s the warbler migration season, and the Sigma lens always worked better for me as far as the auto-focus in picking up small birds in the brush. I probably should do that just to see what the image quality is with the Sigma lens on the 5D Mk IV. I still remember making the switch back to the Sigma a couple of years ago while I was on vacation photographing small birds near Alpena, Michigan. However, the image quality that I get from my Canon telephoto lenses is superior to what I get from the Sigma, if I’m able to get the birds in focus.

I spent a very frustrating day at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve yesterday. I was surrounded by hundreds of small birds such as warblers, vireos, and kinglets all day long, but came home with very few photos to show for my time spent there. I grew arm weary, lifting the camera and lens to my eye hundreds of times, but never shooting a single photo most of the time, for the birds moved before the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-convertor could get the bird in focus.

Since the 5D Mk IV has so much more resolution than my older crop sensor cameras, the image quality that I may get with the Sigma lens on the 5D may be a worthwhile trade-off for the much faster auto-focus. At least I’d get more images, even if they would be slightly lower quality than I’d get with the Canon lens. I’ll have to try that next week.

Weather, and how good the light is, will be the deciding factor next week. If there’s good light, I think that the Sigma lens will produce images with high enough quality for my current standards. But, I know that in poor light, the Sigma lens can’t hold a candle to my Canon lenses.

This image didn’t appear in my last post, because I shot it yesterday as I type this.

Red-tailed hawk

I shot that just after I had packed most of my camera gear into my vehicle. I had noticed the hawk perched near my apartment, and despite the poor light, decided to try for a photo. That was shot with the 5D, 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-convertor, my normal set-up. The ISO was 3200, and the 5D produced an image with what I think is great detail in so low of light at that ISO setting. I know that the Sigma lens can’t match that, but if there’s enough light the results will be closer to what I get with the Canon lens.

That also reminds me to whine about the weather, and the weather forecasters. It seems like every day that I’ve had off from work for over a month has been either rainy, or the day begins with rain, and eventually the rain ends and there’s been a little sunshine in the late afternoon. On a couple of those days, there wasn’t any rain in the forecast at all, and even if they were predicting the rain would end and the sun would break through the clouds, the forecast has been for that happening much earlier in the day than what actually happened. It’s been disheartening to watch the weather forecast at 11:30 PM showing no rain, only to wake up early to find that it is raining again. It’s pretty bad when they can’t even forecast accurately less than 12 hours out.

Since I plan my days out off based on the weather reports, it’s been a frustrating month or more for me. I’ve gotten up early to take advantage of the fact that birds are most active early in the morning, even migrating birds. I look outside to find that the clouds haven’t moved out as forecast, or that it’s still raining, even though the rain had been forecast to move out by then.

In fact, the weather patterns on my days off from work have been amazingly similar, with the clouds finally starting to break up around noon or a little after each and every day that I’ve been out with my camera. By then, the chances of any dramatic landscape images as the clouds break up are close to zero. It also seems like the clouds continue to move on all afternoon long, so that as sunset approaches, the sky has become cloudless, or nearly so. With no clouds to catch the sun’s fading light, there’s been no reason for me to stick it out until sunset either.

Even though I’ve got much more to say, it’s time to wrap this one up with a couple of quick thoughts.

I’ve had the 5D Mk IV for almost a year now, and I’m loving it and the images it produces.

I’m thinking about doing another road trip on one of my next two days off from work, that will depend on the weather. In the meantime, a not so good image…

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

…but at least I caught him displaying his crown.

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


Maybe short and sweet is the way

Well, I’m trying once again to allow people to add their comments to my blog, I hope that I’ve finally set everything correctly this time.

I am going to try something a little different in this post, it will be mostly images, my best of the best the past two weeks, with very little of my thoughts.

White throated sparrow

 

White throated sparrow

Even though that means multiple images of the same species.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

 

Male rose breasted grosbeak

 

Male rose breasted grosbeak

 

Male ruby crowned kinglet

 

Song sparrow bathing

 

Song sparrow bathing

 

Song sparrow bathing

 

Song sparrow bathing

How I went about capturing these images isn’t that important to any one but me, I think, but I could be wrong about that.

Male hooded merganser

 

Male hooded merganser

 

Male hooded merganser

All that I’ll say is that I continue to play with the equipment that I have, trying to get the best from it.

Unidentified flowers

 

Maple flowers?

 

Flowers and leaves opening

 

Common field speedwell?

 

Unidentified purple flower

In my efforts to get the best possible images, I sometimes forget to look at the subject that I’m photographing as well as I should as I concentrate on shooting the image that I want. For example, I thought that these were pale leaves opening, they really caught my eye against the background. But, they were in a position where it would have been hard for me to get closer to them. I had enough trouble not sliding down a steep slope and into a drainage ditch as it was while I was in position to shoot this next one. I was more concerned with getting the shot than identifying what I was shooting, and after blowing the image up on the computer, I believe that what I thought were leaves are actually flowers opening. Either way, I love the color of the background and the fact that it’s completely out of focus so that the flowers stand out better.

Leaves or flowers?

Maybe I’m putting too many images into this post, I’ve had two really good weeks in a row…

Snow drop flower

…with plenty of subjects to photograph…

Common grackle

…with some very good light at times…

Common grackle

…and even slight changes in the light can change how a subject appears in an image, as these two of the grackle show.

Horsetail flower

I’ve also been working very hard at getting the best background that I can, as you may have been able to notice in these images.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

That isn’t easy with these smaller birds…

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

…but when I find an exceptional individual of a species, I try to stick with it as long as possible, shooting as many images as I can…

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

…until I get the cleanest background possible.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

While this is too many images already, I have one more that I’d like to throw in. This one is of a chickadee that some how lost all of its tail feathers. I can only assume that the loss of its tail was due to a run-in with a predator, perhaps a hawk, or more likely, a feral house cat. The reason I’m including it is that I watched as the chickadee flew, and it did remarkably well despite the lack of a tail to use for directional control.

Black capped chickadee that’s missing its tail feathers

I’m thinking of doing a long-winded companion post to this one in which I prattle on at length about my current camera gear, any possible future gear that I’m thinking of acquiring, and photography in general. I guess that I should wait to see if I have finally fixed the problem of people not being able to comment to my posts first.

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!


Winter arrives here in West Michigan

It will be difficult to top the photos from my last post, at least for a while. The long-range winter forecasts are not looking good for my efforts to get even better photos than I have been getting. The warm summer, and very mild fall have left the water temperatures of the Great Lakes well above average, which means that as the colder air from Canada makes its way across the lakes, we’ll be left with near constant lake effect clouds and snow until the lakes cool off.

On Friday, we tied our record high temperature record of 70F (21 C) with bright sunny skies. On Saturday, the temperature hovered near freezing with snow and rain being driven by winds over 30 MPH (48 KPH). I did drive over to the Lake Michigan shore on Saturday after work, hoping to get some good photos of the waves crashing over various things there, but it was snowing so heavily that photos were next to impossible.

I did get the furniture from the spare bedroom in my apartment back in place since they finally got around to almost finishing everything required after the water leak in the spare bedroom. I haven’t moved my computer back into the spare bedroom yet, I may wait until next Saturday to do that.

Since I won’t be shooting as many photos over the winter months, I have begun posting to the My Photo Life List series once again, as many of you may have noticed. I have photos of 30 species of birds to put into those posts that I’ve shot over the last two years. All of the species have appeared here in my blog when I first found them, but I haven’t gotten around to doing a dedicated post on those species yet. I’m very close to being 2/3 of the way through the list that I’m working from, maybe I’ll pick up enough of our winter resident only species to get me to the 2/3 mark this winter.

In theory, I should be able to get to the 300 species mark here in West Michigan, but that would be if I managed to find and photograph every species that has ever been reported here, and that isn’t likely to happen. My odds will be much better if I spend more time in the parts of Michigan where most of the remaining species that I need to complete the list are found in greater numbers, and for longer periods of time than they are found here, as many were just passing through this area when they were reported before.

That brings me to another point, I don’t want to spend the years that I have left to work before I retire buying more camera gear. I’d like to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors much sooner than when I retire, rather than working as much as I can to pay for more camera gear. So, I have made major revisions to the wish list that I have, and my plans for when I purchase what remains on that list. This revision was prompted in part by what I have learned the past few weeks, and because I was trying to decide what to buy for myself as a Christmas present.

I was going to start by upgrading my wide-angle lenses, however, I have decided that it wasn’t the wisest thing to do. Both of the wide-angle lenses on my wish list are brand new offerings by Canon and Sigma, meaning that I would be paying full price for them. By this time next year, I’ll bet that I can find both of those lenses on sale and save a few hundred dollars if I wait. Besides, why upgrade lenses for landscapes at a time when I’m not shooting many landscape photos?

Then, I thought that I should purchase the gimbal head for my tripod. As I was photographing the kingfisher from my last post, I tried holding the camera up until the kingfisher took flight to photograph it taking off, but I couldn’t hold the camera up that long. So, I reasoned that now would be a good time to purchase the gimbal head, so that I could keep the camera on the bird for as long as it sat in one place, and get photos of it taking off too. But, winter is setting in, and I know that I’m not going to stand around freezing to get an image that I could just as easily get during the warmer months and remain comfortable while I do.

So, going down my wish list, I took a good, long, hard look at what I had put on it, and what I really need versus what I’d like to have, all in the context of my recent photos, and comparing them to others that I have seen by other photographers. I also took into account my own abilities as well.

From using the 100-400 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter, I know that 800 mm of focal length is about all that I can manage while holding the lens in my hands. Yes, I could go longer if I used my tripod, but that isn’t always possible for me the way that I go about getting the photos that I do. Also, it’s much better to get closer and use a shorter length lens than it is to stay back and use a longer lens. If I can get good head and shoulder photos of birds with the camera gear that I have now…

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

…then, there’s really no reason for me to spend the rest of my life working to pay for an even longer lens. I shot that photo a few weeks ago, not long after I had begun using the 100-400 mm lens, my images have improved since then.

I almost hate going back through the photos that I have saved from over the summer and posting them now, but with the weather as bad as it’s been so far this weekend, I have little choice.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Besides, I’m already missing seeing these things…

Orange hawkweed?

Orange hawkweed?

…and I won’t see them again until next spring.

I did go to the Muskegon County wastewater facility yesterday to look for birds in the snow.

Drastic weather change

Drastic weather change

The biggest surprise was hundreds of swans! These are part of a larger flock in the west lagoon…

Tundra or trumpeter swans

Tundra or trumpeter swans

…these are a small flock from the east lagoon…

Tundra or trumpeter swans

Tundra or trumpeter swans

…I was hoping to make a positive ID with a close-up…

Tundra or trumpeter swan

Tundra or trumpeter swan

…but I still can’t say for sure which species they were, there could have been both species, as this is part of a larger flock also in the east lagoon.

Tundra or trumpeter swans

Tundra or trumpeter swans with a few geese and other waterfowl

The swans were probably forced to land due to the storm that blew through here on Saturday, I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before, no matter which species they were.

Since the light was horrible all day, I spent some time working on my low-light bird in flight settings.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Gulls almost always are obliging subjects to practice on.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

But, I wish that the light had been better for this one.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Great timing on my part, but the lack of light meant that it was all for nothing.

Suppose that the same thing applies to this next series as well. I spotted a young bald eagle hunting.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

It was using the wind to provide lift as it looked for possible prey below it.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I’ve seen crows mob hawks, and there’s nothing that they go after as hard as an owl, but I seldom see them bother eagles.

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

Of course on a day when there was poor light…

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

…I see the crows doing just that, mobbing an eagle, even catching a ride on the eagle’s back now and then.

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

American crows attacking a juvenile bald eagle

There were times when I thought that the crows were teasing the eagle.

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

I kept the eagle in the viewfinder, and the auto-focus tracking it, and whenever I saw a crow enter the frame, I’d fire off a short burst.

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

If only it had been a sunny day!

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

 

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

American crows mobbing a juvenile bald eagle

I know, too many photos of the eagle and crows, but it isn’t often that I’m close enough to such action to get even the poor photos that I did.

News flash!

My 27 inch iMac will no longer boot up. That means that for the time being, I have no access to my photos, which is no big deal, since I didn’t shoot a single good photo this entire weekend. All of the actual photos are stored on one external drive, and backed up on another external drive, so they are safe. I’ve also been using Apple’s Time Machine to back up the iMac to one of the external drives as well.

I’ve spoken to some one at a computer repair establishment, and they believe that once they have fixed the reason that the computer won’t boot up, that they’ll be able to restore everything from the Time Machine back-ups, including my Lightroom catalog, so that it will be as if the crash never happened, even if it is the computer’s hard drive that failed. I sure hope so. Otherwise, I’d have the RAW images, but none of the editing that I’ve done to them.

At this point, I’m sure glad that I went a little overboard in not only backing up in the first place, but in having a redundant back-up as well. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to lose all my photos. I could plug the external drives into the Macbook pro and work in Lightroom on it, but with this small screen, it just wouldn’t be the same.

For the time being, I’m using my little Macbook pro, and I haven’t used it very much up to this point. You could say that I’m getting a crash course in using it, as well as getting it set-up the way that I want. It’s also taking me some time to recover all of my Internet links, passwords, and those sorts of things, so I’m very busy. I haven’t had a lot of spare time to read or comment on other people’s blog the way that I should, but please, bear with me as I work things out on my end.

I am thinking that when this is all over, and my iMac is up and running again, that I should look into one of the cloud based back-ups available. Not for all of my photos, but for my Lightroom catalog and the other important files and settings of my computer. It would take too long and be too expensive to back-up my photos to the cloud, two hard drives work well enough for that.

I hope that my iMac is back up and running sometime next week, with Thanksgiving occurring this week, the computer repair place will be closed both Thursday and Friday.

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


For my next trick

It’s been a slow weekend so far, so I spent some time on Sunday, testing various lens/tele-converter combinations out to see which one would produce the best portraits…

Herring gull

Herring gull

…and which would do the best on birds in flight.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Without boring every one with the details and the many photos that I shot, the way that it worked out is that the 100-400 mm lens and the 70-200 mm lens are about equal for bird portraits with or without a tele-converter behind it. The herring gull portrait was shot with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter and manually focused. The flying herring gull was shot with the 70-200 mm lens and no extender.

I found that the 100-400 mm lens will match the sharpness of the 70-200 mm lens for birds in flight, as long as I turn the Image Stabilization of the lens off completely.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

That confirms what I had been thinking for a while now, even the best Image Stabilization still interferes with getting super sharp images of subjects in motion, at least for me. The 100-400 mm lens is one of Canon’s newest, with what’s supposed to be their best IS ever. The 70-200 mm lens that I have is one of Canon’s oldest lenses still on the market, and it has no IS at all. As long as I keep the shutter speed fast enough, turning the IS off on the 100-400 mm lens produces the sharpest images. That is, if I have the time to turn the IS off, which is time that I don’t always have.

The 70-200 mm lens doesn’t have IS, so I don’t have to think about turning it off. On the other hand, even with the 1.4 X tele-converter, it’s unusual for me to get close enough to a subject for that lens to be a viable option. I didn’t think to try it with the 2 X extender, as that limits the number of focus points that I can use, and also disables some of the other features of the auto-focus system of the camera that I’ve come to rely on. However, I should at least give that combination a try, if for nothing more than a reference point or a lighter way of getting to 400 mm if I’m doing a very long hike.

During the last few trips that I’ve made to Muskegon lately, twice I have seen northern harriers and crows interacting. I haven’t figured out just exactly what is going on, if the harriers are trying to make a meal of a crow, or if they are only trying to drive the crows away. Or, it could be that the crows are mobbing a predator, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as I’ve watched the action. Unfortunately, both times that I’ve witnessed these two species interacting, it has been too far away for me to get good photos of what I saw.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

Both times that I’ve seen these two species going at it, the harriers looked to be the one that started the fracas, but the crows quickly turned the tables on the harrier, ganging up on it and driving it away.

This week, I spotted the crows first, they were feeding peacefully in one of the recently harvested farm fields. The harrier came along and appeared to try to take one of the crows, which seems strange since the crows are almost as large as the harrier is. The crows turned on the harrier, and drove it from the field, then went back to eating. A few minutes later, the harrier returned again. This was repeated several times. If the harrier was looking for a meal, then it seemed a huge waste of energy to take on another bird that’s almost as large as it is, and is an extremely skilled flier. In fact, this week I didn’t shoot many photos, as I just sat in awe watching the birds in flight. Both the harriers and the crows are good-sized birds, it’s amazing to watch how agile both species are in the air.

That plays into a quote that I recently read.

When I started my adventure in photography, I was suddenly introduced to the world around me. I can’t believe I have been so blind for too many years.” ~ Laura Tate Sutton

It’s also the reason that I’m putting so much effort into getting better images, to share the world that I see through the camera with the rest of the world.

Most people are familiar with crows, they look like large, lumbering birds in flight as they fly from one place to another. However, when they are mobbing a predator, their skill as a bird in flight is revealed. The same can be said of the predator that they are mobbing. Someday I hope to be close enough to the birds to truly capture just how agile they are in flight.

That quote also goes along with this image that I shot Sunday.

Herring gull yawning

Herring gull yawning

First, I was surprised by how far they can open their mouth, then, I began to see the details of their anatomy inside of their mouth and throat. I’ve never seen the details of the inside of a gull’s mouth before, it isn’t like ours, that’s for sure. I have no idea what the structures are at the base of the gull’s tongue are or what they are for, but I may find out someday, and I’ll know what they look like if I read an article about them.

I had been thinking that it was a slow weekend, I walked around home on both Friday and Saturday, and these photos show how spoiled I’ve become.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

 

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking flight

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking flight

 

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

 

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

 

American kestrel number 1

American kestrel number 1

 

American kestrel number 2

American kestrel number 2

I saw two species of hawks and two kestrels in one day around home, and I think that it’s a slow day. The tricks a person’s mind can play are amazing sometimes. That goes for memories as well. I thought that the maples here were very late in beginning to turn color this year, but this photo from Saturday…

Maple tree glowing in the sun

Maple tree glowing in the sun

…is almost exactly like one that I shot just one week earlier last year. So, the maples aren’t really any later in turning color than other years, it must be because the weather has been so nice here this year that my mind is playing tricks on me.

Here’s a few of the other photos from Saturday.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

So, not a bad day after all.

Monday, I went to Duck Lake to shoot the Super Moon as it set, but clouds ruined that idea.

The Super Moon setting over Lake Michigan

The Super Moon setting over Lake Michigan

But, the good news was that the clouds made for a great sunrise. These next three were shot with the 60D and EF S 15-85 mm lens, and are HDR images.

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 1

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 1

 

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 2

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 2

 

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 3

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 3

I also shot a few hand-held with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens.

Flaming sky

Flaming sky

 

Gull flying into the flame

Gull flying away from the flame

I then set-up to shoot the last vestiges of the sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan as the sun rose

Lake Michigan as the sun rose

I thought about walking the trails at Duck Lake State Park, but that park is open to hunting, so I decided that Muskegon State Park would be a better option, hoping that I’d find something to photograph on the Lost Lake trail. I did.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

The only thing remarkable about these is that I shot them at ISO 12800, and they are sharp, with most of the detail intact within the images, despite the amount of noise reduction required.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

While these would have been better with more light, I can’t really complain about these, my low-light images continue to improve.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

One thing that I still don’t understand is why it is impossible at times to get a sharp image, even when everything seems to be good. I thought that I had great light when I shot this photo of a rough legged hawk.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

I was using the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, which means that I was focusing manually. I tried many times to get the focus just right…

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

…and these are good, but even as I was looking through the viewfinder and focusing, I could never get the image that I saw as sharp as what it should have been. When you look at the first photo in this post, the herring gull, you can see what the lens/extender combination is capable of. The same applies to this image as well.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

Of course I was closer to the gull, and that image was shot the previous day. But, I was closer to the hawk than the kingfisher, and those images were shot within an hour of one another. Every photo of the hawk is a tad bit soft, and I shot quite a few, and most of the images of the kingfisher…

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

…are quite sharp, despite how much that I cropped them. Same day, slightly different locations, but somewhat different results. As I watched the hawk through the viewfinder, I was rocking the focusing ring back and forth, trying to get the focus just right, but never did. For the kingfisher, it popped into focus, and I could sit and wait until it struck a good pose, then fire away.

Another thing that I’ll never understand is why two species of birds that are usually very wary both allowed me to get quite close, and shoot my best images ever of both species on the same day.

There was a kingfisher at Lost Lake that morning, and I tried stalking it, using a sand dune for cover as I approached where it was perched, but it was gone when I got to where I would have been able to see it if it had stayed where it had been. Knowing that they use the same perches over and over, I sat down behind some brush to wait for the kingfisher to return, it never did. It went around the lake several times, stopping at various places along the way, but it never returned to where I could have gotten a good photo of it, it must have known where I was hiding.

The same day, but at the wastewater facility, I find a kingfisher that allowed me to get very close to it several times, as you can see by the fact that it’s perched on different things in the two photos of it. In fact, I couldn’t believe my luck, and I returned later to see if it was as amicable as it had been earlier, and it was. It would sit until it saw a fish, dive to make the catch, then move on to different place to perch. I followed along, shooting more photos at each location.

Changing the subject, some of the male northern shovelers are getting close to having their full breeding plumage, so I thought that I’d try to get a good photo of one of them in flight.

Male northern shoveler being photo-bombed by mallards

Male northern shoveler being photo-bombed by mallards

But, a pair of mallards flying into the frame distracted me, so the shoveler was some distance away when I finally got this photo.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

I have filled each of the three available custom control modes of my 7D Mk II with bird in flight set-ups. The first set-up that I saved works okay if the birds are the only thing in the frame other than the sky, as when I’m shooting up to get the bird, but those settings don’t work as well when I shoot at a low angle, like in the photos above. So, the other two customizable settings that I saved are close to being the same, but one is for good light, and the other for poor light. They work very well most of the time, especially for mostly dark birds like eagles and hawks, not so well for birds that are white, like gulls, or have a lot of white on them, like the ducks. So, I’m going to have to reprogram that first set-up with different exposure setting for when I’m shooting lighter birds, otherwise, I’m blowing out the highlights too often. Okay, that’s done, it was easy enough now that I’m used to doing it.

It will be interesting to see how those new settings work out, as I based them on the manual mode rather than shutter priority as I did for the other two set-ups. If this works as well as I hope it will, I’ll reprogram the other two customizable modes also. I was hoping that the register recall function that I can assign to several different buttons on the camera would do the same thing, only faster, but it won’t switch the camera mode. That does give me an idea though, as it pertains to getting better portrait shots. There, that’s taken care of.

If there were one feature that I would add to the 7D Mk II if I could, it would be the ability to store lens settings in the customizable modes. I’d love to be able to limit the focusing range and to turn the IS off with the turn of a dial or press of a button, rather than to have to set both the camera and the lens to the best settings for the photo that I’m going to shoot. Maybe some day Canon will make that possible.

Anyway, here’s a few of the other photos that I shot while walking the Lost Lake trail on Monday.

Beech leaves

Beech leaves and hemlocks

 

Oak leaves abstract

Oak leaves abstract

 

More beech leaves

More beech leaves

Well, that’s about it. I think that my next trick will be getting photos as good as these once more typical weather moves in. It’s been a glorious fall so far, with warm temperatures and lots of sun. That’s all forecast to end this weekend, darn. Rain, snow, and wind are supposed to hit the area on Saturday. I may have to spend one day moving all my stuff back into the room that had the water leak in it. They finally got around to finishing that job.

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


When I do retire

My plan is to have purchased all the photo gear that I’d like before I retire, then be able to spend as much time as possible outdoors, shooting photos. That sounds simple enough, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For one thing, there’s the weather to contend with, and how I deal with it. One of the things that I look forward to be able to do is to plan where I go and what I photograph around the weather that day.

Yesterday, which was Sunday, there was dense fog that lingered well past noon, making the day almost a complete bust for me. The sun had finally come out and burned off the last remnants of the fog at about the same time as I had to leave the Muskegon area and return home. I’m sure that I missed a great sunset from what I saw through the window here at home as I was going to bed.

Fog can be good for some landscape photography, but not fog as thick as it was yesterday. The visibility was close to zero in places, and I had a hard time negotiating my way around roads that are very familiar to me. If I hadn’t known exactly where I was going, I probably would have gotten lost. As it was, it seemed silly to be creeping along at less than 5 MPH looking for the correct place to turn. It was such a bust as far as photography that I gave up for a while and took a nap while parked as I waited for the fog to lift at least a little. But before I get hung up on yesterday, back to my plans for the future.

I’d like to travel, to see the places that I’ve already been in the past, such as Yellowstone and the Canadian Rockies, along with the places that I haven’t been, like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Death Valley. While the wide-angle lenses that I have are fine for Michigan, I could use better ones for the spectacular scenery that I’ll find in those places. Also, I’d like to reduce the weight of my backpack that I carry my camera gear around in.

I thought that weight wouldn’t matter, and it I were still young and spry, it wouldn’t, but I have to face it, I’m old and grey now, and carrying all the gear that I have now wears me out. To the point where as I’m returning to my vehicle, I’m too tired to bother getting the correct lens out of the backpack, and I shoot what ever I see with the long lens set-up that I use for birding, or skip the shot completely unless it is a really chance for a really great photo.

As it is, I carry too much stuff with me that I seldom use on most days, but since I have limited time to be out shooting photos, I feel that I have to be ready for anything. But as I say, it wears me out to the point where it doesn’t matter if I am ready for anything, if I’m too tired to bother digging what I need out of the backpack.

That’s where having more time will be a good thing. I’ll be able to make trips to shoot specific types of images, say landscapes one day, macro photos on another day, and of course, days when I shoot mainly wildlife. That will be especially true when I’m traveling, then, I’ll be shooting mainly landscapes and wildlife. That means getting my gear better organized so that I only bring what I’ll really need on any particular day.

I plan to have a backpack set-up just for excursions when I plan on shooting mostly landscapes, and it will have the second camera body, a Canon 24-105 mm lens and a Sigma 12-24 mm lens in it. Along with the new 100-400 mm lens that I’ll have on my 7D, I’ll be able to shoot everything that I see, other than true macro photos. I’ll probably add the set of extension tubes and my tele-converters to that backpack, and it will still weigh less than half of what it does now. That will cover everything from 20 mm to 800 mm, and I’ll be able to take my good tripod, rather than the lightweight one that I carry now.

Since good macro photos are much easier on days when there’s little of no wind, when I have more time, I’ll be able to carry everything that I need for those images on days best suited for that type of photography, leaving the landscape gear in my vehicle or at home while I shoot the macro photos. I think that you get the idea.

Anyway, speaking of macro photography, I’m going to start the photos in this post with just such a photo, although it may not appeal to everyone.

Unidentified spider

Unidentified spider

The reason that I’m starting with that image is because it represents something else that I’m planning on for the future, getting better with the gear that I already have. That was shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, one of the few times that I’ve used that lens on that body. I typically use the 60D for macros, and it works well enough, or so I thought. What I’m impressed with in that image is that I shot it at ISO 12800, and the sharpness, detail, and clarity are much better than I had expected when I shot it.

Until a few weeks ago, I limited the 7D to ISO 6400 because I couldn’t get photos as good as the spider is at the higher ISO settings due to the noise that I’d get at those ISO settings. By learning a few more little tricks to help reduce the noise, better camera settings and learning to use Lightroom’s noise reduction better, I hate to say this, but I amazed myself with that image.

I also wonder how much of a role that the lens played in making that image as good as it was? I’ve never read or heard anything about the quality of a lens contributing to noise, but I’ve seen it in the lenses that I own. The better the lens, the less noise in an image produced by that lens at the same ISO setting as the other lens I’m comparing it to. The 100 mm macro lens is the best lens that I own, followed closely by the 70-200 mm and 100-400 mm lenses.

That plays into learning to get the best out of the 7D Mk II, rather than to purchase a much more expensive Canon 5DS R body to get better detail and resolution in my images. Here’s another example, also shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

And, here’s the other end of the spectrum, a herring gull portrait, shot with the 100-400 mm lens.

Juvenile herring gull

Juvenile herring gull

It always helps to have a willing model that’s willing to pose, as was the hawk…

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

…from my last post. When you can see the texture of a bird’s feathers, then it doesn’t get much better than that.

Okay, so I’ve laid out some of my plans, one other thing that I’d like to have is a second excellent long lens for birding. I know that it sounds silly after the photos that I’ve just posted, but getting images like those often requires that I add or swap tele-converters to the 100-400 mm lens, just as I used to do with the 300 mm lens.

Once I’m retired, I’d like to spend some days in blinds or hides, which ever you prefer, and shoot both portraits like those above, along with action photos like these.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

 

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I have some ideas as to what I may purchase as a second long lens, but I’ve also got to do some more testing of what I already have, and learn just what it’s capable of before I make a decision on another long lens, or if I need one at all.

I was hoping to do some of that testing yesterday, which was Sunday, but those plans went out the window because of how long the thick fog lingered.

Monday dawned bright and clear…

Monday's sunrise

Monday’s sunrise

…although a little bit of fog tried to form just as the sun was rising…

Just the right amount of fog

Just the right amount of fog

…and there was some wonderful light as the sun began to climb above the horizon.

Canada geese at dawn

Canada geese at dawn

 

Mourning dove at dawn

Mourning dove at dawn

It’s too bad that I couldn’t catch this buck in that light…

8 point whitetail buck

8 point whitetail buck

…and since it is hunting season here, the buck was in no mood to pose for me.

8 point whitetail buck

8 point whitetail buck

With good light, I thought that it would be a good day to test out some of the things that I wanted to, so I put the 2 X tele-converter on the 300 mm lens and used that for longer shots all day, reserving the 100-400 mm lens for action photos. As it turned out, there were few chances for action photos, here’s the best of the lot.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Just as I was afraid of, the 2 X tele-converter on the 300 mm lens just doesn’t cut it as far as image quality now that I’ve seen what I can get from the 100-400 mm lens.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

 

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

But, I kept trying to do better with the 300 mm lens all day.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I tried a variety of camera and lens settings, but even my best attempts were not quite up to what I’ve been getting from the 100-400 mm lens.

Juvenile ruddy duck

Juvenile ruddy duck

However, I should have known that, it’s been the same story with that lens since I bought it, unless I’m close to a subject…

American pipit

American pipit

…the sharpness just isn’t there compared to the new lens.

I don’t have many regrets about “wasting” a day shooting with that set-up though, I learned what I needed to learn. The only time that I wished that I had done things differently was when I saw this eagle.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

It hung around for a minute or two, giving me the look…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…then it was off to chase the gulls and ducks for a while.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

That’s the only regret from the day, that photo would have been so much better if I had used the new lens with its better auto-focusing than the 300 mm lens and extender, which focus so slowly that the photo above is the sharpest of the series that I shot as the eagle flew away.

If I were to go through and list all the photo gear that I have, the only piece of it that I would say was a mistake was the 300 mm lens. I say that even though up to the point when I purchased the 100-400 mm lens, the 300 mm lens was the one that I used most of the time. On a sunny day like Monday, I probably would have been better off using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) than the 300 mm lens.

The 300 mm lens does focus closer, and it’s much better in low light, but it is a soft lens at any distance over about twenty feet. It’s only because of its superior low light performance over the Beast that it was my go to lens for birding most of the time. Even then, when I had a trying day when using the 300 mm lens, I’d switch back to the Beast to use its superior auto-focusing to get images of small, fast birds that stay deep in the brush most of the time. Without a doubt, the 100-400 mm combines the best features of both the Beast and the 300 mm lens, with none of the drawbacks of either of those two lenses.

Mallard pair

Mallard pair

I’ve written about the fog on Sunday, how foggy was it?

The cliched lone tree in the fog

The clichéd lone tree in the fog

When I got to the clay pits, I decided to shoot a less clichéd shot, but in the same vein.

Lone island in the fog

Lone island in the fog

On the other hand, you couldn’t have asked for clearer skies on Monday.

Making the yellow pop

Making the yellow pop

Yes, I used a polarizing filter for these, and I considered de-saturating the colors a bit because I was worried some one would think that the color came from software tricks.

More of the bright yellow color

More of the bright yellow color

Now then, for some fun photos. I’ll never figure great blue herons out, they choose some strange places to take a break sometimes. This one was perched on the railing around the top of one of the chemical storage tanks at the wastewater facility.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I did play some software tricks to these photos, I was shooting almost directly into the sun, and the sky came out with a weird greenish cast because of that. I used Lightroom to shift the color of  the sky back towards blue where it belongs. Anyway, I zoomed out for that photo, to show what the heron was perched on. As I zoomed in, the heron began to walk the “tightrope”.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The heron had to use its wings for balance, and it still nearly slipped off from the railing.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Then, I got the look, as if to ask, “You didn’t film that did you?”

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I’m not sure if an eagle would try for a great blue heron, but if I were a heron, I wouldn’t want to learn the hard way that an eagle would, so I’d be a little more choosy about where to perch. On the other hand, if I were an eagle, I’d be looking at that long, skinny neck and thinking that heron may be on the menu today. Then again, on the other hand, (yes, I have three) maybe the heron thinks that having a clear field of view in all directions means that it could spot an eagle long before it came close.

Anyway, something else that I have to do is to find a number of places where I can go, set-up hides to watch and photograph wildlife from, and not have signs of man-made structures in the background of my photos.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

It’s really cool to see several hundred of the same species of duck take flight at once, but I would rather it be in a more natural looking area than the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. I know that I’ll never find another place as close to home with the same numbers of any one species, or the range of species that I see there though. That means locating a number of places where I can spend a day concentrating on better images of fewer subjects. I should say, spend part of a day, for I’d only want to sit around in a hide when the light is good.

Let’s say that I’m going to shoot wading birds, ducks, or shorebirds, the place that I find will have to be on the southern side of whatever body of water that attracts the birds so that I have the best light. To get even more specific, I want to be looking towards the west or northwest in the morning, and towards the northeast or east in the evening to take advantage of the best light during the time that I’m in the hide. I’ve been checking out places online, and finding great spots isn’t going to be that easy. For some reason, most of the places that I’ve heard of end up being on the north side of bodies of water, so I’d end up shooting into the sun, which isn’t good. I can cross those places off from my list when I check them out on a map without wasting time traveling there in person.

In the meantime, here’s a few more photos from this weekend.

Unidentified fungi

Unidentified fungi

 

Savannah Sparrow in the fog

Savannah Sparrow in the fog

 

Horned lark

Horned lark

Even though I was shooting in high-speed for these next two…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…I missed the exact moment when the gull made the snatch of a tidbit of food.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

The American tree sparrows have returned from their summer home range to spend the winter here.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

 

Starling

Starling

I wish that these two eagles would choose better places to perch than this.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

My plan is to begin exploring places this winter, as long as there isn’t too much snow to get around in. Winter may not be the best time of the year for exploring, but there are still a few species of birds migrating through the area that I need photos of to add to my list of birds that I’ve seen. Recently, short-eared owls have been seen in the Muskegon area, along with a female harlequin duck. I need to get photos of both species, although I would prefer a male harlequin duck in breeding plumage. But, as has happened so many times in the past, once I get photos of a female or juvenile of a species, it isn’t long before I catch a male of the same species.

Well, it’s about time for me to go to work, so I’m going to end this post here, check to see who our next president may be, then put in another long boring night driving back and forth across the state.

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


Neither enough time or money

I have a wish list of camera gear that I’d like to have someday, I doubt if I’ll ever be able to afford it all though.

I also dream of the time when I’m free to go where I want when I want, and not be tied to a work schedule that interferes with my chances to get outside and shoot photographs of the things that I see. Of course if I had more time to devote to photography, I wouldn’t necessarily need all the things that I have on my wish list.

I’m also pondering the question of just how good is good enough for me as far as the quality of the images that I get.

As it is, I have neither the time or the money to get the photos that I would love to shoot.

I have four years to go before I can retire, and I’m so looking forward to that day when the only schedule that I’ll have to conform to is the one that I set for myself. Or, I should say, the schedule that nature sets for me.

That means that you’ll probably be seeing more photos like these when I retire. 😉

Dawn on the ducks

Dawn on the ducks

I said in my last post that my goal is to get at least one memorable image every time that I’m out, I think that I met that quota on Monday.

WOW!

WOW!

If you can believe it, a guy that I see regularly at the wastewater facility stopped to chat while I was shooting the sunrise, and asked me what birds I had seen so far.  My reply was that I hadn’t even looked for birds, I was too busy shooting the sunrise, and the only birds that I had seen were the ruddy ducks that were helping me create a foreground for my landscape photos. He drove off to look for birds, paying slight attention to the gorgeous view to his right, which I found hard to believe. By the way, that’s the same guy that I’ve seen shooting the eagle in the eagle tree for an hour or more at a time. I guess he loves birds more than one of the most awesome displays of color that I have ever seen.

In this instance, the magic light lasted long enough for me to shoot a series of images with both the 60D on the tripod with the 15-85 mm lens on it, and another series with the 7D, using both the 70-200 mm and 100-400 mm lenses on it.

Last week, I had only a few seconds of magic light in which to come up with this image.

Fall coming to an end

Fall coming to an end

I did have enough time to remember to add the polarizing filter to the 15-85 mm lens before I shot that one. I shot three different compositions of that scene before the hole in the clouds that created the spotlight effect on the trees closed for good. I’m not sure where the lens flare came from, I was shooting at 90 degrees from the sun as you can tell by the shadows.

So, with these images in this post so far, the images of the Mandarin duck from my previous posts, and seeing the images that other members of the North American Nature Photographers Association, I have to say with all modesty possible, I’m turning into a good photographer, not great, but good. I’m beginning to understand light.

Diffuse light is usually good light for photography, but not always, sometimes it’s just dead and lifeless.

The clay pit 1

The clay pit 1

Morning light is almost always good, even in full sun, the warmth of the light adds a little more punch to the colors.

The clay pit 2

The clay pit 2

It’s the same scene, shot a few days apart, in different lighting conditions.

I’m having a hard time prioritizing what I want to upgrade next. I’d like the high-resolution Canon 5DS R both for image quality, and because it will auto-focus to f/8. I’d use the 60D body for bird portraits, but that camera won’t auto-focus with a long lens and tele-converter on it. So I’m stuck using the 7D and swapping out tele-converters all the time, and missing some shots because of that. If I went the other way, using the 7D for portraits, then I’d miss action shots if I used the 60D for those, because it doesn’t auto-focus as fast or as accurately as the 7D does.

I’d like to upgrade my wide-angle lenses, after I’ve seen how well the Canon L series lenses do on the 7D, the mid-priced lens that I have are okay, but I can also image how much better my images would be if I shot them with better glass. The wide-angle lenses I have are over achievers, that is, they produce better images than their reasonable price would suggest, but they are not the same as the better lenses on the market.

Recently, I saw a photo of the aspens in full color out west, I won’t say where I saw it to prevent embarrassing the photographer. It would have been a great photo, but there was so much barrel distortion in it that even some one who had no idea what barrel distortion is would have been prompted to ask why the trees on both sides of the image look so weird.

Barrel distortion is called what it is based on the shape of wooden barrels, which are wider in the middle than they are on the ends. You could also say that barrel distortion looks like both parenthesis signs together with what’s in the center of the frame being straight, sort of like this (|).  In the photo that I saw, the trunks of the trees in the middle of the frame were straight, but the trunks of the trees on the left edge of the frame were curved like this ( and the trees on the right side of the frame were curved like this ). I didn’t know that any manufacturer still made a lens with that much distortion in it. I should say that some people like distortion in their wide-angle photos, not me, at least not so much as to make trees look like they’re about to fall over.

I went through that explanation because distortion in extremely wide-angle lenses is one reason that I didn’t want to stick with a crop sensor camera body for landscapes. You may remember that a while back I said that my choices for a second camera body were either the reasonably priced 7D Mk II and a very expensive lens, or the very expensive 5DS R and a reasonably priced lens, and that the total cost worked out to be about the same. That may not be true any longer. Sigma has come out with their third version of a 12-24 mm lens which they claim has no distortion, and is reasonably priced, as in half the cost of the comparable Canon lens.

Sigma may be stretching the truth when they say no distortion, but I’ve seen photos shot with that lens, and there’s very little distortion in them, at least very little that I can see. Those images are about the same as those taken with a slightly longer lens on a full frame camera body, which I could easily live with.

The new Sigma lens has just been released, it will be interesting to see more photos taken with that lens, and to read more reviews of it. The reviews so far have been very good.

The reason that it’s important to me is because I may not need the 5DS R body after all, a second 7D Mk II may be more than enough for me.

The 5DS R is the only camera that Canon currently produces that has higher resolution than the 7D which I have, and that’s only because the low-pass filter is turned off to create sharper images. Since Canon has just finished upgrading their entire line of high-end cameras, it’s doubtful that they’ll introduce something that I’d be interested in purchasing for the next four to five years.When they do begin the upgrade cycle again, the 7D will likely be the first one upgraded, as it was during this last cycle. So, as far as a second body, I may be better to hold off at this time, and wait to see what the future holds in store.

As it is, I think that the new Sigma 12-24 mm lens should be on my wish list as my extreme wide-angle lens of the future.

Also on my wish list is a gimbal head for my tripod.

The three-way head that I have on my tripod is almost perfect for landscapes and the occasional macro photos, but it doesn’t work for action photos or videos when I have to move the camera.

Okay, I made a decision about the second camera body. If the 7D Mk II can shoot photos like this…

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

…and it obviously can, then there’s no reason to plunk down an extra $2,000 for a 5DS R body for a slight increase in resolution. That $2,000 will cover almost all the cost of upgrading my wide-angle lenses.

That photo was shot with the new 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter and cropped slightly. I shot it during a walk around home, after working this morning. Here’s a couple that I shot at 400 mm and didn’t crop.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

 

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

I knew it was going to be a good day when this was one of the first photos that I shot today.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

This one isn’t quite as sharp, but the blue jay was scolding me as it flew.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

I’ve only had the 100-400 mm lens for just over a month, and the 7D for a year and a half. If I continue to improve the quality of my images  as I have been, it won’t be long and I’ll be very close to what the 5DS R and produce anyway, so there’s no point in spending the money on one.

But, I’ve been babbling long enough, here are the rest of the photos from today.

Fall colors

Fall colors

 

More fall colors

More fall colors

 

A vividly red maple

A vividly red maple

 

Same tree shot from the opposite side

Same tree shot from the opposite side

 

Even more fall color

Even more fall color

 

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

 

Chained

Chained

Last weekend around home, I didn’t have as good of light as today, but I saw a lot more birds.

Blue jay

Blue jay

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Male Hairy woodpecker

Male Hairy woodpecker

 

Male Hairy woodpecker

Male Hairy woodpecker

 

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

 

American robin

American robin

 

American robin Stretching

American robin stretching

 

Black-capped chickadee eating a snack

Black-capped chickadee eating a snack

 

Black-capped chickadee eating a snack

Black-capped chickadee eating a snack

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Blue-headed vireo

Blue-headed vireo

I also spotted a couple of red-squirrels taking it easy.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

 

Red squirrel chilling

Red squirrel chilling

I’ve got room for two more, so one will be this praying mantis that would not pose for me.

Praying mantis

Praying mantis

And, the other will be this flower. I’m terrible at identifying flowers, I don’t know if this is an aster, or a daisy that decided to bloom again since the weather has been so warm this fall.

Daisy or aster?

Daisy or aster?

To me, while I would like to be able to ID flowers, seeing them, especially this time of the year as winter approaches, is absolutely delightful!

While it has been warm enough for so plants to form buds, about the time that the buds are about to open we get a frost that kills the flowers, or results in stunted, partially open flowers. But, I’m not complaining, we haven’t seen any snow here yet, and it’s getting close to the middle of November. This weekend is forecast to be bright and sunny, with temperatures much closer to what I’d expect in the middle of October, so I’m hoping to spend as much time outside as I can, enjoying it while it lasts!

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


I ‘ve got it out of my system now

My final thoughts about the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary as I left were “Okay, I’ve been there, I shot some exotic birds, I’ve gotten my close-ups, I’ll probably never return. Cheating was fun for a day, but now it’s back to shooting wild birds again.”.

However, after giving it a little more thought since then, I may return once a year or so, just so that I can continue to track the improvement to my photos. It was good for a change not to have to attempt to eek out every bit of low-light performance of my camera gear, or to try to stretch the focal length of my lenses in order to get closer to the subjects of my photos. It was also nice that I could pick and choose which flying birds to try to photograph, and not have to try to keep up with two extremely fast flying birds like the falcon being chased by the gull. 😉

The happy truth is that I can go to any number of places in southwest Michigan and see everything that I saw at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, other than the Mandarin duck…

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

…and the black swan…

Black swan from Australia

Black swan from Australia

…which aren’t natives here. I’ve gotten good photos of the trumpeter swans before…

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

…maybe not quite this close though.

Trumpeter swan portrait 1

Trumpeter swan portrait 1

 

Trumpeter swan portrait 2

Trumpeter swan portrait 2

And, the reason that I was able to get so many good shots of the mallards in flight…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…along with the fact that I ended up having great light the day that I visited…

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

…is because there weren’t any other subjects around at the time to distract me from the mallards. I was just standing there watching mallards, geese, and the swans. I didn’t have to worry about peregrine falcons…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…bald eagles harassing gulls…

Bald eagle harassing a flock of gulls

Bald eagle harassing a flock of gulls

..or looking for a duck that wasn’t paying attention to the eagle’s presence.

Juvenile bald eagle duck hunting

Juvenile bald eagle duck hunting

As it was, the ducks were well aware of the eagle, and every time the eagle started into a dive, all the ducks near it would all dive out of sight. However, I was not able to track the eagle when it made a dive towards the ducks, the auto-focus would focus on the water, rather than the eagle when it got lower. So, I had to settle for that photo.

Before I forget, one sharp-eyed reader asked what the swans with the yellow on their bill were.

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

They are the result of cross breeding Whooper swans (pronounced “Hooper”) from Eurasia with the native trumpeter swans from North America. No one at the sanctuary could explain why they brought in a non-native species to breed with some of the few remaining native swans, but they did, and there’s still a few of the offspring from those breeding attempts left there at the sanctuary.

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

Whooper X Trumpeter swan hybrid

As you can see, I was shooting at a slight angle downward when I shot those, that was one of the disappointing things about the sanctuary. Because they have built a seawall topped with a chain link fence, as this photo from my last post shows…

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

…I could get to within a few feet of my intended subjects, but then I’d be shooting almost straight down at them. That isn’t the best angle for really good photos. It makes for much better images if you can get down to the same level as your subject. Of course, I had the opposite problem with the peregrine falcon earlier in this post, it was perched on top of a utility pole, too high to get a great image, even though I didn’t have to crop the one in this post at all.

Also, just like any place else that I go, I couldn’t make the birds pose where I had great light on the water to make a good image…

American black duck in harsh sunlight

American black duck in harsh sunlight

…but, once in a while, I would get good light for a shot.

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

So, getting close doesn’t always lead to the best images, it’s a combination of things. These two images of a male scaup would have been much better if it had posed a few feet farther to the left where I wouldn’t have gotten the harsh reflections off from the water.

Male greater scaup preening

Male greater scaup preening

 

Male greater scaup drying its wings

Male greater scaup drying its wings

There was one other thing that interfered with my attempts to get better images as well. Whenever visitors came along and threw corn to the waterfowl, the swans and geese jostling for position…

Trumpeter swans warning off a Canada goose

Trumpeter swans warning off a Canada goose

…with those big feet of theirs…

The foot of a Canada goose

The foot of a Canada goose

…would get the water roiled up and muddy, so it wasn’t as appealing as a background as what I had hoped it would be.

American black duck

American black duck

It’s also hard to shoot portrait shots when all the waterfowl were chasing the kernels of corn being thrown in their direction.

So, I really see no reason to return to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, it was fun for the day, but I can do just as well in many of the other places that I go. I’d be much better off focusing my attention on improving all my skills, including those needed for shooting video. I shot a video of the peregrine falcon eating last week, but it’s quite shaky since I shot it at 800 mm.

This week, I shot a video to show the number of Canada geese in just one of the grassy cells, it’s not too bad, but I should have done better. By the way, see if you can spot the four snow geese in this video. For a hint, I’ll tell you that there are two white morphs…

Snow geese, white morph

Snow geese, white morph

…and two of the snow goose blue goose morphs in this video.

Snow geese, blue morph

Snow geese, blue morph

This video is a perfect example of what I have to deal with when I’m looking for some of the less common species of waterfowl, they hide out among the much more common species. Now then, on to the video.

I shot the video at 100 mm, I had added the 2 X tele-converter behind the lens when zoomed to 400 mm to get to 800 mm for the photos of the snow geese somewhat isolated from the flock of Canada geese. I’ll get back to boring talk of photo gear in a minute, but first, a few observations about what photography is teaching me about bird behavior.

One of those things is how some species of waterfowl hide out among the larger species, and no species does that more often than the mallards. I’m almost certain that the mallards do that to stay safer from predators, as very few predators will take on a full-grown Canada goose unless the predator is extremely hungry. The mallards will put up with the belligerent geese occasionally chasing them around while other small duck species tend to shy away from being in with the geese, they prefer to keep a little distance between themselves and the geese. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision by the mallards, or just something that they do because it works well for them.

Another thing that I’m learning while I’m observing birds through my camera lens is the way that individuals in a flock interact with others of the same species within the flock. With most species of birds, when there’s food available, the entire flock will go after the food all at once, with individuals within the flock fighting over the food. Not with crows.

American crows finding a bonanza

American crows finding a bonanza

They’ve been harvesting the corn crop grown in the farm fields around the wastewater facility, and as you may be able to see, some of the harvested corn spilled out onto the road as it was being transported. The crows found this, and there were hundreds of crows in the trees nearby. However, the entire flock didn’t go after the corn all at once, smaller groups would land…

American crows finding a bonanza

American crows finding a bonanza

…eat their fill, then leave. Then, another small group would land to take the departing group’s place. There was very little fighting between the individuals on the ground eating the corn, they seemed to know that there was enough to go around, and that cooperation was the best way for each of them to get their share. You can see plenty of corn spilled out on the road, yet the flock feeding on the corn stayed about the same size, with the rest of the crows patiently waiting their turn to get the corn. Is that another sign of the intelligence of crows?

That’s another time when I should have shot a video, but I was so busy observing the behavior of the crows that I forgot that I could have shot a video of them. I kept the camera pointed at the flock on the ground because I expected to see a feeding frenzy of the type that I’ve seen other species of birds engage in, with a lot of bickering as the birds fought over the food. Quite frankly, I was amazed that the entire flock of crows didn’t fall on the corn and dispose of it as quickly as they could have if all of them present had decided to go after the corn all at once. Instead, it was a very orderly succession as the crows went after the corn.

Another thing that I may never understand about bird behavior is why one day, a specific individual will allow me to approach it quite close, and then the next day, fly off as soon as I start shooting photos.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I’m sure that this is one of the same individuals that I’ve shot hundreds of photos of in the past, perched in its favorite look-out tree near one of the lagoons at the wastewater facility.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I know that I’ve sat there the same distance from it for over a half an hour at a time in the past, and I’ve seen another photographer sit there even longer shooting photos of that eagle. But yesterday for some reason, as soon as I stopped, it was off.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

I wasn’t expecting the eagle to take flight so quickly, so I had the camera set to shoot portraits of it first, and the eagle didn’t give me the time to switch the camera settings to those better suited to catch it in flight, darn.

That was the story of the day yesterday, I couldn’t get close to any of the raptors other than this male kestrel…

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

…and these were shot at 800 mm with me focusing manually because that’s all the closer that I could get to the kestrel.

Male American kestrel

Male American kestrel

My new buddy, one of the juvenile great blue herons, also let me get close to it, this was shot at 400 mm and not cropped at all.

Juvenile great blue heron

Juvenile great blue heron

I added the 2 X extender for this shot.

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and not cropped

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and not cropped

I guess that I can get head shots of wild birds.

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and cropped slightly

Juvenile great blue heron, 800 mm and cropped slightly

That is, as long as they hold still long enough for me to fool around adding an extender to the 100-400 mm lens. That, and for me to focus manually because not even the 7D Mk II will auto-focus with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X extender due to the loss of light because of the extender.

I was hoping that I’d be able to use the 300 mm lens with the 2 X extender for portrait photos of birds, then switch to the 100-400 mm lens for action shots. However, the new 100-400 mm lens is so much better than what the 300 mm lens is that I end up swapping tele-converters on the zoom lens all the time. As a result, I find myself missing shots that I may have otherwise gotten.

I’m glad that I didn’t miss these!

Monday's sunrise 1

Monday’s sunrise 1

 

Monday's sunrise 2

Monday’s sunrise 2

Those were shot with the 60D and 15-85 mm lens mounted on my tripod of course. I also dug out the 70-200 mm lens and with it on the 7D, I shot these handheld.

Ducks at dawn 1

Ducks at dawn 1

 

Ducks at dawn 2

Ducks at dawn 2

Seeing the ripples in the water when the ducks would dive, I shot this sequence.

Ruddy duck at dawn

Ruddy duck at dawn

 

Ripples of color 1

Ripples of color 1

 

Ripples of color 2

Ripples of color 2

 

Ripples of color 3

Ripples of color 3

 

Ripples of color 4

Ripples of color 4

One of the goals that I have set for myself is to return from every outing with at least one memorable image from the day, no matter what the weather is, or where I go. I think that I succeed most of the time, I certainly have the past few outings.

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


I cheated, and it was fun for a day

The bird sanctuary that I wrote about in my last post is the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, located near Augusta, Michigan, about an hour southeast from where I live. W. K. Kellogg founded the sanctuary when he heard of the drastic decline of Canada geese that was occurring because of the loss of habitat and over hunting. Later, it became the home of a breeding program for trumpeter swans, also due to the drastic declines in the number of birds of that species also. Here’s the short version of the history of the sanctuary from their website.

In June 1927, cereal maker W. K. Kellogg purchased the land surrounding Wintergreen Lake, fencing off 180 acres to create the W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. The goal was to teach an appreciation of the natural beauty of native wildlife, while providing a place to breed game birds.

In 1928, Kellogg deeded this land over to the Michigan State College of Agriculture (now Michigan State University) to ensure that the Sanctuary would serve as a practical training school for animal care and land management. This move opened the doors to further field research work for college students, which enhanced the programs that were put on for the general public.

The W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary was created with waterfowl as a high priority. Breeding of waterfowl was crucial to re-establishing populations of game birds. In particular, the Sanctuary was instrumental with assisting in the repopulation of Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans, though other waterfowl played, and still play, an important role in the ecosystem.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I take a great deal of pride in the fact that all of the birds and wildlife that you’ve seen photos of here are totally wild critters. Some of the places where I’ve photographed them aren’t wild, the wastewater facility near Muskegon for example, but all of the critters are wild, and I haven’t used bait to get them to come close to me.

Now then, with that said, I had some misgivings about going to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, because from the website, parts of it sounded like it was a zoo of sorts. On the other hand, parts of the website was about all the wild waterfowl that spend time there during migration. Which part is true? They both are, but I had to see for myself.

And, while I think that I’m doing very well with the wild birds that I find in Michigan, once, just once, I’d like to shoot a few images of some of the more exotic birds that are colorful enough to make the average person say “Wow!” and that I see in so many of other people’s photos. So, I gave in to temptation, and gave it a shot or two.

Black swan from Australia

Black swan from Australia

 

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

 

Mandarin duck from Asia

Mandarin duck from Asia

Our native wood ducks may be just as colorful…

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

…but they don’t have the fancy feathers of the Mandarin duck. By the way, those are wild ducks, as you can tell by the fact that they are moving away from me and about to disappear from my sight behind the lily pad leaves.

The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary also has a raptor rehabilitation operation, and once, just once, I wanted to get close-ups of the raptors that they have there, but the strange thing is that other than this great horned owl…

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

…and this sleeping eastern screech-owl…

Eastern screech owl

Eastern screech-owl

…I couldn’t make myself shoot photos of the birds in the rehab center. They were the most despondent and dejected looking birds that I have ever seen in my life. They looked absolutely miserable, not able to fly, not able to really live, just existing and waiting for their next feeding. I know that none of these birds would be able to survive in the wild due to their injuries, yet seeing them made me very sad, and not because they had been injured, but because of the way that they had to live in small cages with nothing to do but be there for the people walking past their cages to look at. It was worse than any zoo that I’ve ever seen.

I suppose that it doesn’t bother most people who have never seen these birds in the wild, but it put a damper on my entire day there at the sanctuary.

Let me go back to the beginning of the day. I was the first visitor there, arriving just after they had opened the gates at 9 AM. I stopped at the visitor center to pay the entrance fee, and I also chatted with the woman who explained a bit about the sanctuary, and where the best places to take photos may be. I walked down by the lake, and there were trumpeter swans, mallards, and Canada geese all around me. Pretty cool I thought. But then, I heard a strange sound, and I saw that it was one of the trumpeter swans playing with a five gallon bucket that is used as a feeding station for the swans.

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

 

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

Trumpeter swan waiting for breakfast

It wasn’t long before a worker came along and filled all the feeding bins that have been placed all around the one end of the lake, which made all the swans very happy.

Most of the swans are wild, but they hang around there at the sanctuary because of the easy access to food which is provided for them.

By the way, I wouldn’t be posting these photos if I hadn’t already gotten photos of truly wild trumpeter swans in the past. I’ve seen them many times in the Pigeon River Country, around the Muskegon area, and even in a few un-named wetlands during my travels around Michigan. They are huge birds, but I never realized how big they were until I saw one standing next to me, and it was almost as tall as I am.

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Seeing a bird that stands nearly 6 feet tall is an imposing sight! Their wingspan is pretty impressive also.

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

I honestly didn’t know how tame the swans had become, or that they were fed regularly by the staff at the sanctuary. I did know that they allowed the public to feed corn purchased there to the waterfowl though, so I should have guessed that the swans geese, and mallards had become very tame. Every time a visitor came along with a bucket of corn, there was a feeding frenzy.

Waterfowl feeding frenzy

Waterfowl feeding frenzy

So, why did I go if I suspected that there would be exotic birds along with native birds that were very tame? I want to be able to judge just how good my images are compared to those shot by other people, and it helps to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

I can go to the places that I normally do, and get what I think are some very good images…

Lesser yellowlegs flight ballet

Lesser yellowlegs flight ballet

…but those can’t compete with a mandarin duck…

Mandarin duck

Mandarin duck

…an un-cropped head shot of a trumpeter swan without resorting to using tele-converters to get closer to them…

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

…or even a close-up of a greater scaup.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

On a somewhat humorous side note, the male scaup, there were two pair there, were extremely nervous about being so close to humans, and I think, being so close to the huge swans. However, the females…

Female greater scaup

Female greater scaup

…were all for easy food in the form of the corn that people threw to them to eat, so the males hung around their mates, even though they would have preferred to have been elsewhere from the way that they acted. Also, the four scaup were the only wild birds that would come close for the easy food, all the other wild birds stayed out in the middle of the lake, well away from people, who had to use spotting scopes to identify the ducks that were there, just like at the other places that I go.

Wait, I almost forgot, during times when there were no people there other than me, blue jays would come out of the woods to look for any kernels of corn that the ducks had missed, and there weren’t many kernels of corn missed by the ducks.

Blue jay

Blue jay

And, I shot one other wild bird that day, an osprey on the far side of the lake when I took the trail that runs around the lake.

Osprey

Osprey

But, back to why I was willing to sacrifice my principles for one day, to compare my photos to those shot by other people who may not have the same principles that I do. I hate to brag, but my images are getting very close to matching the best that I’ve seen, other than the images shot with the very high-resolution sensor cameras, such as the Nikon D810, the Canon 5DS R, or the top of the line Sony camera. My Canon 7D Mk II is absolutely deadly on flying birds when conditions are right!

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I could have filled a memory card with good to excellent images of the mallards in flight if I had chosen to. As it was, it was difficult to sort through the ones that I did shoot to pick out the best of them based on wing position, the expression on the duck’s face, and the background behind the mallard.

I did make one mistake though, I mentioned that I walked the trail around the lake, so I brought one of the 60D bodies with the 15-85 mm lens on it, hoping to shoot a few landscape photos of the autumn leaves. I didn’t see many scenes worth shooting, and the two or three that I did shoot are rather boring, so I’m not going to post them. What I should have done instead was to bring the 70-200 mm lens for the times when the action was taking place so close to me that 100 mm of the 100-400 mm lens was still too long.

Trumpeter swans fighting

Trumpeter swans fighting

The waterfowl butt bite!

Trumpeter swans fighting

Trumpeter swans fighting

It seems to be the universal mark of victory over your opponent, especially when you have several of your opponent’s feathers to prove that you won.

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

 

The victor!

The victor!

I could have used the shorter lens to get both of the combatants in the frame at the same time, then zoomed in on the victor.

This seems to be a game that the swans played. There were several times when I watched one swan sneak up on another, give it a playful nip, which would result in a chase like the one above.

That’s not the only time that I could have used a shorter lens, a flock of geese took off heading straight towards me, from behind me. I turned, got zoomed in to around 200 mm, and began shooting, tracking one goose as it came towards me. I zoomed out as it approached, this one was shot at 114 mm, just before the viewfinder was filled with nothing but the brown of the goose.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I turned as the goose passed me, then got it centered in the viewfinder again.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Who would have thought that I could have used a wide-angle lens for birds in flight?

Normally, I’m trying to stretch the focal length of the lens that I’m using by adding a tele-converter to get closer to the subject.

Speaking of subject, I’m going to change it completely, and switch over to some photos that I shot on Sunday, the day before I went to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.

Okay, you may remember that I said that I had some photos of a peregrine falcon interacting with gulls that I wanted to post, and here’s the first. The gull on the left isn’t screaming at the falcon as they often do, the gull was yawning, as if to tell the falcon that it wasn’t scared at all by having the falcon so close.

Herring gull yawning

Herring gull yawning

The gull moved even closer to the falcon.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Then, another gull flew past, and from the way the falcon is looking at the gull, I can’t help but think that the falcon was sizing up the drumsticks of the gull, and thinking that maybe it was time for a snack.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

The gull perched next to the falcon must have thought the same thing, for it left soon after.

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Herring gull and peregrine falcon

Those were shot at 800 mm, the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter.

I left to chase an eagle, but it took off long before I got close to it. At the same time, all the gulls began to go crazy, I thought that the eagle flying over them set them off, but it may have been the falcon. I say that because when I got to the other side of the same cell that the falcon and gulls had been in, the falcon was eating something that it had stolen from one of the gulls.

Peregrine falcon enjoying leftovers

Peregrine falcon enjoying leftovers

Most people think of gulls as scavengers, and they are, but they are also very good hunters, and they kill many small birds, especially during migration. So, I don’t know which bird made the kill in the first place, it could have been the eagle, one of the gulls, or the falcon. All I know is what I saw, and that was the falcon picking the scraps of meat left on the carcass of what looked to have been a pigeon.

That photo was also shot at 800 mm, and it was only cropped a little, if at all. I shot quite a few photos of the falcon eating, then I removed the tele-converter, and it was a good thing that I did. I hadn’t completely finished getting the camera ready to go again when a gull began to attack the falcon. They were out of camera range by the time I was ready to go. However, the falcon turned around and came towards the rear of my car with the gull right on its tail. I couldn’t get myself turned around in the seat fast enough to catch them coming at me, and I had a devil of a time getting them in the viewfinder as they passed me heading away from me.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcons may be the fastest creature on Earth in a dive, but in level flight, the gull was staying right on the falcon’s tail.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

The falcon was juking and jiving…

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

…trying to lose the gull.

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

Herring gull attacking a peregrine falcon

It was at this point that I could no longer keep them in the frame together, the gull pulled up, and where the falcon went, I couldn’t see. All I know is that I saw it land a short time later, without the carcass of whatever it had been eating.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

So, what does that final series have to do with my day at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary? I’ll get to that, and more, in my next post.

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


A great weekend results in too many photos

Well, the weekend is still a few days away, and I’m watching the weather forecasts like a hawk, trying to decide where I’m going to go. I’d like to get out somewhere that I can shoot a few landscapes that include the fabulous show that the trees are putting on right now, but at the same time, it’s still the fall migration season for birds, with a few unexpected visitors showing up in the various birding reports that I monitor. I haven’t crossed many species off from the list of birds that I need to get photos of for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on this year, but on the other hand, trying too hard to seek out species of birds that I haven’t seen before means that I’ve been giving less time to photographing our more common species.

Then, there’s the question of which images that I may be able to sell if I were to put more effort into marketing my photos. I printed out a number of my images in 11 X 14 inch size, and I sold one of those prints to a guy that I work with. It was one of my snowy owl in flight images, and he purchased it as a Christmas gift for his daughter, who loves owls.

While one never knows what print will sell, there are some subjects much more likely to see than others. Raptors are one, along with owls, and anything cute. There’s very little chance of my selling a photo of one of the more obscure species of birds, no matter how good the image is. I should also be looking for trophy game birds and animals, such as whitetail deer bucks with large antlers, certain ducks, and large Tom turkeys with long beards as well, because hunters may purchase an image of a trophy game animal.

To make my decision even tougher to make, I learned of a bird sanctuary that’s located about the same distance from where I live as Muskegon is, but in the opposite direction, more or less. It was set-up to be a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl, and according to the birding reports, there’s about the same number of species of waterfowl, but in slightly lower numbers, than there are at the wastewater facility where I usually go. The thing that attracts me to the idea of checking out this other sanctuary is the fact that there may be more chances to get closer to waterfowl, and with more photogenic backgrounds than at the wastewater facility. There are two downsides to the sanctuary however, one, it’s five dollars a pop to visit it, and it doesn’t open to the public until 9 AM. That means no sunrise photos when the light is at its best, darn.

I’ll have to check the sanctuary out, to see if I can get closer to the waterfowl, and shoot images with better backgrounds, and shoot at better angles. If this place works out well, I could purchase a yearly membership, which would save money versus paying the 5 dollars each time that I visit. I suppose that there are advantages to having become an old geezer, I can save ten dollars a year on membership to the sanctuary as well as qualifying for the geezer pass at National Parks here in the US.

Well, from the latest weather reports, I think that my best plan for this weekend will be to go to Duck Lake in hopes of getting a good image or two of the sunrise over the lake with the fall foliage at close to its peak in the background. Once the sun is up, I’ll head to the waste water facility in hopes of catching some trumpeter swans and snow buntings, both of which have been seen there the past few days. On Monday, I’ll check out that other bird sanctuary, if that goes well, I’ll have a full report to do on it. Wish me luck!

Well, the first half of my plan worked out very well indeed! On Sunday, I began the day before sunrise at Duck Lake, and I did get a few good images of the sunrise as it took place.

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park

I’ll get back to the sunrise shortly, but first, I was also able to get my best ever images of a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

I hung around with the falcon for what seemed like most of the day, shooting well over 200 photos of it alone. I also caught it interacting with a couple of the gulls at times, but I missed what could have been sensational shots, which I will also explain later.

I shot a few eagles…

Bald eagle preening

Bald eagle preening

…a few of the smaller species of birds…