The first thing that I noticed as I removed the new 7D from the box was that it felt lighter than the 60D bodies that I have been using. Even though it is slightly larger than the 60D, the 7D has a magnesium frame, rather than an aluminum and plastic frame as my 60Ds have. The ruggedness of the original 7D is almost legendary, there are Youtube videos of people purposely abusing them to see how much punishment they could take before they stopped functioning. (those videos always ticked me off, why destroy a perfectly good camera when so many people would love to have one?)
Anyway, it felt solidly built as I took it out of the box, not that the 60D feels cheap, but I could tell the difference right away. Opening the 7D up to insert the battery and memory card, I could see the weather sealing there around the openings for each compartment.
Next up, the viewfinder. It’s huge and bright, even when compared to my 60D, which was a huge improvement over my old Nikon D50 which was like looking through a long tunnel when looking through the viewfinder. There’s a lot more information displayed in the 7D viewfinder as well, but I didn’t pay too much attention to that yet, that will come as I learn more about the camera.
With a memory card and battery installed, it was time to go through the menu and get the camera set-up for my first attempts at shooting photos. The menu system is fairly well laid out, but there were a lot of settings to be changed, and I managed to miss a few as I went through them the first time. I also noticed that the buttons and other controls feel more solidly built than on my 60D. I’m not sure that I like the joystick, since I’m used to the multi-controller of my 60D, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough. It’s funny, Canon took a lot of heat from reviewers when the launched the 60D, every one hated the multi-controller, which had replaced a joystick on earlier models of the xxD line. Maybe because I started with the multi-controller, I found it quite easy to use.
Anyway, I managed to navigate around the menus system without having to consult the manual, so that was a victory, even if it was a small one. ;) I’m certainly glad that this camera is an upgrade from another Canon camera, or the manual alone would have overwhelmed me. I’m not going to go through all the features of this new camera, as the list is quite long. Besides, you’re more interested in the photos it can produce.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate the first day with the 7D, it was cloudy, gloomy, with off and on rain when I set out for a walk. Because of the weather, I opted to use the 300 mm L series lens, since it is also weather-sealed, and better suited for miserable weather. Right outside of my apartment, I stumbled upon a pair of mallards, first, the male.
That’s just as the image came from the camera, here’s the second photo of the male after a few tweaks in Lightroom.
I’ve already posted this one of the female, but I’ll throw it in again, just for the record.
I’ve been getting better images from my 60D all the time, some are much better than those, but still, there’s something about these so far that tells me that the 7D is going to be even better than I thought that it would be.
I tried shooting a few close-ups to check the camera/lens combination on subjects at varying distances.
My first big surprise, the metering/exposure system of the 7D nailed the correct setting for the daffodil! I shot it with no exposure compensation just to see what it would look like, and to give me an idea how much to adjust, but I didn’t need to. In a recent post, I wrote about the problem of many cameras overexposing yellow flowers, not the 7D, within limits, as you will see later.
Even though it was dark and foggy, I couldn’t resist giving the new camera the torture test of trying to shoot red-winged blackbirds in the gloom, both stationary…
…and like a complete idiot, in flight.
The slow shutter speeds required in such low light meant that I didn’t have a chance of getting a good photo, my only reason for shooting those was to test the auto-focusing of the 7D to see if it could pick up the birds and track them, which it did quite well given the poor light. I know this because as one of the birds slowed down to land, the 7D had tracked it well enough for this photo.
I was shooting in high-speed burst mode, which was close to 10 frames per second, the 7D is like a machine gun with a hair-trigger! I also found out that the SD card that I’m using is too slow for the camera, I’m going to have to upgrade to a much faster CF card to take full advantage of the 7D’s rate of fire. ;) The 7D can hold one of each type of memory cards, I’ll use a faster CF card for the main storage, and the SD card as a back-up.
The 7D also has a built-in flash, so I tested that in this photo.
Nothing special, other than the fact that I didn’t have to adjust the flash output at all for that photo, it’s straight out the camera with no adjustments. That’s another big improvement over the 60D I’ve been using, I usually went down almost two full stops when using the flash to prevent overexposing subjects.
My next big surprise came next. The 300 mm lens on the 60D has never been good at focusing in on small birds in the brush. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the light is, that lens can’t find birds when used on the 60D. On the 7D, different story!
I had been all set to help the lens out by manually over-riding the auto-focus, but I didn’t have to, and I didn’t even need to go down to the single auto-focusing point to get those photos.
It may have been a blessing in disguise that the weather was so poor for photography on my first time out with the new camera, while the photos are nothing special, normally I’d have discarded them, they do show me just how much better the focusing system of the 7D is over that of the 60D! Even in the poor light, the 7D was focusing in quickly on the birds, just as it should, with no help from me for a change.
I shot this one at ISO 16000, the highest “native” ISO setting for the 7D, just to see what it would look like.
Not great, I didn’t expect it to be, but in a pinch, I can go that high with the ISO and get a usable photo. That’s always good to know.
It’s also good to know that the 7D does well on squirrels, for all the squirrel fans out there, and I think you know who you are. ;)
The next day, the weather was much improved, so I mounted the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on the 7D, and tested it out, starting with mallards again.
Then, I tested the new camera out on blue and green.
Then on the yellow daffodils again.
Okay, the Beast has never been good for close-ups, but that seems to be different when using it on the 7D, as these are quite good. Also, no exposure compensation was required, the 7D nailed it again!
However, that changes if yellow isn’t the dominating color in the frame, as this shot shows.
There, the daffodils are slightly overexposed, I could have fixed that if the photo was worth anything other than a test. Of all the reviews of the 7D Mk II that I read, I don’t recall any of them mentioning how much of an improvement has been made to the metering system, at least not that I recall. The reviews all go on and on about the auto-focusing, and the fact that the camera can shoot 10 frames per second, and leave it at that.
It’s also much better on black birds against a blue sky!
One of the local hawks made a few flybys for me, but even the 7D can’t make the Beast a great lens for birds in flight.
Still, I was impressed by the way that the 7D tracked the hawk against a busy background!
The willows have begun to bloom, and once again the Beast on the 7D surprised me with this.
Then, it was time to put the 7D with the Beast to the birding test!
Even the Beast on the 7D needed a little help to get the grackle so deep in the brush, but otherwise, no problems finding and focusing in on birds! Still, the most amazing display of the 7D’s ability to track a moving subject was still to come! One of the local hawks came flying towards me, but on the other side of a line of trees. I tried getting a focus on the hawk through the tree branches, and not only was the 7D able to, it continued to track the hawk as I was shooting.
To take full advantage of the 7D’s auto-focusing capabilities, you really need a f/2.8 or faster lens. The only lens that I have with a f/2.8 maximum aperture is the Tokina macro lens, but that has the old style screw-drive type of drive for the focus. I was thinking about that, and it hit me, I had no idea if the 7D had the capability of driving the focusing of that lens, many newer cameras don’t. No need for me to worry though, the 7D will drive the Tokina lens, and very well!
Unfortunately, because of my work schedule this week, I didn’t have a lot of time to play with the new camera. Even worse, I didn’t get many hours in either, so I’m going to work tomorrow, Saturday, to earn some extra money.
None of the photos that I’ve shot with the 7D so far are anything spectacular, I have better photos from my 60D, with a few more to post yet. But, I can see the possibilities of the 7D. The much improved auto-focusing will help me to get the shots I missed with the 60D. The better metering system will help to improve the quality of my images. That’s been a very pleasant surprise so far. I am also very impressed by the improvement in the image quality overall, for both sharpness and color rendition also.
I think that I’ll see more improvements in the quality of the images as I learn to use the camera to its full potential, I’ve just scratched the surface so far. Now, it’s time for me to get some sleep before I go back to work again. :(
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
In preparation for the arrival of my new computer, I’ve been looking at a few of my old photos, shot a few years ago with my old Nikon camera and lens.
I’ve asked around as to whether the new iMac would be able to read the image files that I have on the back-up drive that I have, and the answers have been yes, no, and maybe, so I’ll go with maybe for now. However, I think that I can transfer a few of the photos at a time to a flash drive that I have, and import them onto the new iMac that way, or so I’ve been told. So, I dug up the flash drive and found the images that I’ll use for this post, a best of the best from my old Nikon I suppose you could say.
But first, some other news, I have received my long-term visitor’s pass to the Muskegon County wastewater facility. That means that I don’t have to call ahead each time to arrange to have a pass left there for me on weekends, and can go anytime that the weather makes it worth going.
Then, there’s the weather, it seems like when I get time off from work, it’s cloudy and dreary outside. I did make it out on Sunday, not only was it dreary, but it was foggy as well, very poor for photography. I’m saving the few photos that I shot until the new computer arrives. I would have had time for a walk today, but the day dawned much as it did yesterday, although right on cue, just before I had to leave for work, the sun came out. That seems to be the way things have been going lately, if I’m working, the sun is out, if I have time off, then the weather stinks.
Now then, I have received my Federal Income Tax refund already, which bulged my checking account beyond what I needed for the new computer, and was all set to order the 21.5 inch display iMac that I had decided was the best for me. Funny thing, 1 to 3 days to build it special for me, and 2 day shipping to get it to the local Apple store became 10 to 14 days before it would arrive.
This coming weekend is going to be miserable for any outdoor activities, and I wanted the new computer here by then so I could get it set-up while the weather was too bad outdoors for even me. Wind chills down so low as to be dangerous with off and on lake effect snow is not good weather to be out in.
So, I did some more research. I thought that I could purchase the base model iMac with just 8 Gb of ram, then add more myself, no can do. The case of the 21.5 inch iMac is sealed, the ram has to be added at the factory when the computer is built, or by an authorized service center, meaning big bucks to add ram to it.
So, more research again. I found that the 27 inch display iMac can be upgraded by the user. You push a button on the back of the computer, a small door pops open, and you can add more ram yourself. Not only that, but the maximum ram for the 21.5 inch is 16 Gb, while the 27 inch will accept 32 Gb of ram.
Okay, the base 27 inch model is $300 more than the base 21.5 inch model, except that with the added ram that I wanted, and the other upgrades, it works out that the base 27 inch model is less than $100 more than the 21.5 inch model that I was going to special order.
You know what that means, I’ll be picking up the base 27 inch model this weekend. There are more advantages than just being able to add ram myself. The 27 inch comes with a faster processor, faster hard drive, and better video card as well. I’m sure that the standard 8 Gb of ram will work for me for the time being, and I can add more ram later, and for probably less than the $200 that Apple charges to do so. More ram is always good, so being able to go all the way to 32 Gb rather than 16 Gb is a good thing. Not to mention the much larger display to view my images on. ;)
So, if things go as planned, this weekend I’ll be getting a new 27 inch display iMac set-up and ready to go in time for spring, as I look out my window and not feel guilty about not going out as the wind howls and blows the snow around. :)
Okay then, now it’s time for some photos. A few of you may remember some of these, as I said earlier, they were shot with my old Nikon for the most part, although I may slip in a few from my Canon Powershot as well. They were taken when I still lived at the previous apartment complex where I lived at the time these were shot.
While I don’t miss those apartments, or the poor management there, I do miss the wildlife, especially my “pet” red-tailed hawks.
Because of the way that those apartments were laid out, each summer I got to witness young hawks learning to hunt, and they grew used to my presence, allowing me to shoot some good photos despite the quirks of the Nikon.
Then, there were the man-made lakes that surrounded most of the apartment complex. The land had been a gold course at one time, built in a naturally wet area. The golf course went broke, and developers built the apartments along what had been the fairways, and left the old water hazards in place. With several small bodies of water connected by a creek that flowed between them, and eventually to the Grand River, each summer, there would be great blue herons hunting along the water edges.
During the spring and fall, migrating waterfowl would stop over at some of the lakes for short periods of time, like these mute swans.
Probably one of the most memorable and beautiful things that I have ever witnessed in nature was the courting behavior of a pair of swans.
The lakes attracted plenty of geese as well.
The trees that had once lined the fairways of the old golf course became the home for many small songbirds as well.
We also had a flock of turkeys that called the area home.
As you can see, I used to luck out and get a few good photos from the old Nikon before it croaked. However, I’d love to have my new Canon and my current lenses and live in an area like that with so much wildlife around. But, moving has worked out better for me overall, this area has plenty of wildlife also, but it’s spread out more, and critters are wilder, not as used to people. That makes it tougher to get as close as I used to be able to get where I used to live, and remember, I’m posting the best of the best, not the thousands of poor images I used to end up with while I struggled with the Nikon.
In fact, to prove that it’s not so much the camera as the person using it, here’s a few from my old Canon Powershot, a compact digital point and shoot camera.
I think that this post is about done, but I have two photos from my old Nikon of a bald eagle that I’d like to share as well.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look back in time, I know that I have. I still have a few more of the best of the best that I may post soon, when I get the time. I plan to be busy this weekend getting the new computer set-up, if everything goes as planned. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. ;)
Oh, one more photo for this one.
The eagle and the doe were the only winter photos that I could tolerate posting at this time of year, I am so looking forward to spring! I want to be photographing flowers, insects, and of course, songbirds, especially as they are singing. Just a few short weeks to go, and winter should be about over with, I hope!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by, and I hope that my next post will have been written on my new computer!
This post will cover photos that I shot on Christmas eve, Christmas Day, and the weekend following, at various locations along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
However, before I get to the photos, a few other news items from more recently. I arrived home this morning at 2 AM after having worked 16 hours, fighting non-moving traffic in downtown Chicago during “rush hour” made worse by a severe snowstorm. I walked through the entrance way of the building, and noticed a large puddle of water on the floor, and thought that it had been made by snow melting since the door to the building doesn’t always latch properly when the winds are strong, and the snow builds up under the door. But, when I opened the door to my apartment, I heard water running in my dining room, not good. The dining room is where I store my camera gear, and the floor had an even larger pool of water than the hallway had. Water was running down through the light fixture in the ceiling, as well as down the wall.
I lucked out though, none of my camera gear was wet, other than the holster bag that I had on the floor was slightly damp where it touched the carpet. I grabbed all my stuff and moved it to a safe location, then called maintenance.
The maintenance/security guard arrived in a matter of a few minutes, looked the situation over, then called the more skilled person on call. That person arrived in less than ten minutes, checked the apartment upstairs to see if the leak was coming from there, then deduced the water was from the hot water heating system we have. He shut down the boiler, then called the service company that handles the service on the heating system, as well as an emergency clean-up contractor.
To make a long story short, they had the leak repaired and the majority of the water removed by 5 AM and I was able to go to bed! I was impressed then, it strikes me as even more impressive after I got up later today, less than three hours to fix the leak and clean up the majority of the mess that had been made!
I have a fan left by the clean-up contractor running in the dining room to help dry out the carpeting, and a hole in the ceiling drywall that they had to cut open to access the burst pipe, but other than that, you’d hardly be able to tell that the dining room and kitchen had been flooded last night. They’ll have to come in and clean the carpet as well as tack it back down next week, and also repair the drywall once it has thoroughly dried.
I thought that I had been hit by another major disaster when I saw what was going on last night, but it has turned out to be just a minor inconvenience. In a way, I lucked out, for I had been scheduled for another mid-day run to Chicago for work, but when I saw the mess when I opened the door, I called dispatch and told them I wouldn’t be able to make it in on the scheduled time. I got my schedule changed to do a better run on Saturday, when the weather should be better. I’m loving my new employer, one that works with the employees rather than trying to shaft them all the time.
On a related note, you may read in the news of a huge pile-up of cars on I-94 in Michigan due to the snowstorm that hit us yesterday and today. One person dead, a truck carrying fireworks on fire, over 100 vehicles involved in the crashes at last count, and people being evacuated within a five-mile radius in case the truck on fire explodes.
I should have gone for a walk today, since I have the day off, but I only slept a few hours due to my schedule being so mixed up, and I don’t feel like going out and battling what amounts to a blizzard.
Besides, I had another reason to stay in, I had a package delivered with some goodies inside on Wednesday.
You know that my plan is to buy a new iMac when I saved up enough money to do so. That plan includes using Adobe Lightroom to manage and organize my photos on the iMac, as well as to edit my images when it is called for. So, since I needed Lightroom, and an external hard drive to store photos on seemed appropriate, I went ahead and ordered both Lightroom and a 4 TB external drive to connect to my new iMac when I get it.
It may seem silly to have purchased those items before the computer, but I know me, and if I had the computer first, I’d start using it before I had everything that I needed to be set-up properly, then have to re-do everything later. This way, when I do get the computer, I’ll be able to plug the hard drive in right away, and get Lightroom set-up to store all my images on it right from the get go.
4 Tb sounds like a huge amount of storage space, but I’ve nearly filled a 1 Tb drive with my images shot in jpeg, and images shot in RAW are 3 or 4 times the size of jpegs, so I don’t think that a 4 TB drive is overkill at all.
One other item that I purchased was a small, light-weight ball head to fit either my tripod leg set-up, or the monopod that I have.
In a previous post, I went on at length about the fact that I should carry and use my tripod more often. I also related that the 3 way head that I use on the tripod is almost as heavy as the tripod legs alone. The 3 way head will hold either of my long lenses with no problem, but I seldom use either of those lenses mounted on the tripod. So, I’ve been looking for a way to cut down on the weight of the gear that I carry each day, and/or a light weight solution to how I carry the tripod.
I can’t believe that no one makes a light weight carrying bag to hold a tripod set-up, either that, or I haven’t been able to find one yet. I wish that I knew some one who knew how to sew, I’d have one made for myself.
Anyway, as I was looking at a lighter alternative to the 3 way head that I have now, an idea struck me, try one of the ball heads on my monopod. I’ve had the monopod for years, but seldom used it, even though it doubles as a walking stick. The biggest drawback to me was that when I attempted to use it for macro photos, I’d end up holding the monopod at weird angles, and have to put more effort into holding the monopod steady than I would have to when using the camera by itself. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to shoot macros with the monopod nearly vertical, making it much better to use, and use the ball head to get the weird angles required at times. We’ll see, even if the ball head doesn’t work out well on the monopod, I can still use it on the tripod legs, and reduce the weight of the head by 2/3.
I know one thing, I do have to carry something that will let me get the macro shots that I want, when I want. You may remember that a while back I posted a photo of an ant trapped in pine resin.
I’ve been planning on going back and trying for a better photo than the one that one. Well, one sunny day a few weeks ago, I looked at where the ant had been, and the pine resin the ant was trapped in was gone. That goes along with having tried to get very good close-ups of the ice crystals in a recent post, without something to steady the camera, I couldn’t get the images that I wanted. If I don’t get it right the first time, there may not be a second chance!
I’ve already tested the ball head on the monopod here at home, and I think that it will make a fine set-up while hiking. I haven’t installed it on the tripod yet, maybe that will never happen, but it should work out fine that way as well.
Now then, I’m finally going to get around to the Christmas weekend and a few newer photos. With four days of play time, I made the most of it, visiting several places along the lake, looking for birds and some good light for a change. One of the places that I went was the Grand Haven break water, looking for both a common eider and a great black-backed gull, both of which had been reported there through eBirds. I found the great black-backed gull for the first time on a dark and stormy morning, and managed a few photos of it, however, on a return trip, I was able to do better. Before I get to the gull though, I’m going to start with a HDR image of the lighthouse at Grand Haven.
The reason that I tried going with a HDR image was that I was trying to increase the contrast between the waves breaking against the lighthouse and the sky in the background. I shot close to 100 photos of the waves, and most looked like this if they weren’t edited.
If I got any contrast between the water and the sky, then the lighthouse was underexposed. If I exposed the lighthouse correctly, then the waves disappeared into the background. I’m not entirely happy with the HDR image here, but I’m still learning how to manipulate images in Photomatix.
By the way, these images are all out of order, not that it is a big deal, you’ll never know the difference. ;)
Okay then, here’s the great black-backed gull.
That’s a species of bird that I needed as I continue trying to photograph every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan for the My Photo Life List project that I began two years ago. I’m now well over 200 species, but they keep getting tougher all the time. I never did see the eider, although I stopped at the Grand Haven breakwater three times in four days.
For the shot of the gull above, I was north of it, meaning I was shooting toward the sun, so the photo isn’t the greatest. A jogger ran between the gull and myself, spooking the gull away. I walked a short distance away, and waited, the gull returned, and I was able to shoot better photos, although the black-backed gull had joined a flock of herring gulls. I prefer to get just the one species in the frame for the images I use when I post a specific species, but these will work. They show the differences in size and coloration between the black-backed and herring gulls.
I was hoping that I could get just the black-backed gull in the frame, but about then, a person walking their dog walked between myself and the gull, spooking the gulls once more.
It was hard to pick out just the one gull in the flock, but I did mange to zero in on the black-backed gull for this one.
Since these were shot at Grand Haven on the sunny day that I was there, I’m going to throw in this photo, even though it has nothing to do with nature, I just love this house.
I changed the subject from gulls, but I’m going back to them, even though these photos are nothing special. With lots of common herring and ring-billed gulls around, I practiced my bird in flight techniques for a while.
It was a rather cold day, so I returned to my Subaru to warm up for a while as I waited in hopes that the Black-backed gull would return, but it stayed out of camera range for the rest of the time I was there. I did however, shoot these next two photos, neither of which have been cropped at all, while waiting. The first was shot with the Canon 300 mm prime lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it.
This one was shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to show how much difference 80 mm makes as far as getting closer to a subject.
Quite honestly, even though I’ve done this before, I was surprised how much of a difference that extra 80 mm made.
For the snowy owl fans, I did go to Muskegon over the Christmas weekend also, and did see a few of the owls, here’s one.
Several posts ago, I had many photos of a flock of eagles fooling around relatively close to me, but in horrible light. On one day that I went to Muskegon when there was good light, there were a few eagles, but they stayed out of range of the camera for the most part. Here’s two that were close enough for me to even try for photos.
Those aren’t very good, and here’s why. There’s a flock of gulls in the foreground, behind the gulls, the two large dark objects are the eagles, with several crows nearby.
That gives you some idea how far the eagles were from me.
One of my stops over the weekend was Lake Harbor Park and there were a few eagles there as well, but once again, they stayed well out of camera range for a good photo.
While I was there, I also shot a few photos of hybrid mallards, I’ll start with one that has a black head.
Here’s another male of mixed heritage.
Maybe it got too close to me, I zoomed out for these next two.
By the way, those last two aren’t the same duck, it seems most of the mallards there at Lake Harbor Park were hybrids, as few of them were colored like a true mallard. I suppose it goes right along with this duck, a black duck/mallard hybrid.
Here’s a male mallard (I think) from Grand Haven.
It’s getting so that it’s hard to tell if a duck is really the species that you think it is around here, the mallards are mating with several different other species, and you can’t be sure of what species they are. Here’s yet another mallard with slightly different coloration, also from Grand Haven.
The only other photo that I shot at Lake Harbor Park was of this stump, just because I liked the colors.
I could have had a field day with that stump if there had been better lighting and I had brought my macro lens and tripod while walking the trail, maybe the next time. ;)
On one of the days in Grand Haven, I shot photos of the steam locomotive on display in a city park, trying out the 10-18 mm lens.
I posted images of this before, but they were shot with the 15-85 mm lens, I was trying to do better, but the fence there made it difficult to show the locomotive without the fence blocking it out.
That was the best that I could do without the fence getting in the way. Here’s two photos about the locomotive.
And, here’s the entire train from a different angle.
Also at Grand Haven, I shot this flock of common goldeneye ducks as they flew past.
Here’s a juvenile long-tailed duck that was playing in the surf.
It was hard to keep track of it, as a wave that was breaking would approach, the duck would dive under the wave…
…and I never knew where the duck would pop up next. Oh well, I have posted much better shots of long-tailed ducks before, and I’m sure that I’ll get more later this winter when the larger flocks arrive.
Another stop that I made was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, where I found these birds.
Not a great haul, but not too bad either.
I’ll finish this post with two more images of a snowy owl, this one had darker plumage than the others that I saw.
So, that wraps up another one. If I left any spelling mistakes, I’m sorry, I’m rushing this one to finish before I leave for work.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Sorry for another post from Muskegon so soon again, since I have plenty of photos from around home to share. However, a few things happened this past weekend that I want to post about while the day is still fresh in my memory.
To begin with, it was a rather slow day as far as birds to photograph. It hasn’t been very cold here compared to our average temperatures or even the way that November was. But, most of the water at the Muskegon wastewater treatment facility has frozen over, meaning most of the ducks and geese, other than a few mallards, have left for down south. With the waterfowl gone, most of the raptors have moved on as well. I did see a few bald eagles and hawks, there’ll be photos later, but really, the only subjects that I saw worth photographing were the snowy owls.
That image was shot about half-way through my day, before I started cheating, which I’ll get to later.
I learned a great many things this day, about snowy owls, photography, editing photos, what other people will do for a great photo, and what I’ll do for a good photo, but I’ll get to those things as I go.
The day began cold, cloudy, hazy, with a strong enough wind to make it feel much colder than it was, which was about the freezing point for most of the day. I didn’t even make it all the way past the entrance drive to the wastewater facility before I spotted the first of five snowy owls for the day. I started out using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) by itself for this photo.
I wasn’t that impressed by the position of the owl or the conditions, so it was playtime. I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the Beast, meaning that I had to manually focus for this one.
Here’s the cropped version.
Not too shabby given the poor light at the time.
I set-up my second camera body with the 300 mm prime lens, the 1.4 X extender, and for shooting action photos, primarily birds in flight. I tested all the camera and lens settings out on a pair of common mergansers that I spooked by accident.
A little farther along the road, I spotted my second snowy owl of the day, but it wasn’t in the mood to have its photo taken.
I tried out my action set-up again on a rough-legged hawk, first, as it landed….
…switched to the Beast while it was perched….
…and managed to grab the action set-up as the hawk took flight.
Some light sure would have helped those, or any of my early action photo attempts.
The white pigeon tried to fool me into thinking it was a snowy owl, but I didn’t fall for it. ;)
Not far from there, I found my third snowy owl of the day, this one was willing to pose for a few photos.
And, here’s the cropped version of the image above.
The chance one takes getting so close to birds is that if they decide to fly away…
…you only get parts of the bird in the image.
That’s for any readers that have a snowy owl foot fetish. ;)
The owl didn’t go far…
…I learned that snowy owls like my Subaru Forester.
I had to shoot a few more photos of the owl as I walked back to my car.
From there, I hit all the typical birding hotspots around the wastewater facility proper, and the surrounding areas within the Muskegon State Game Area, which are considered part of the wastewater facility as they are under the control of Muskegon County, even though it is state land. I saw a pair of bald eagles on the ice of one of the lagoons, but well out of camera range. There were dozens of crows and hundreds of gulls, but little else to see. It may have been the slowest day of birding that I’ve ever had there.
I had planned to also go to the Muskegon Lake channel to look for late season migrating waterfowl, but looking towards that direction, I could see that the clouds were even thicker there, and very few waterfowl have shown up there according to eBird reports.
Instead, I drove back to the man-made hill that overlooks the grassy cells to hang out for a while and see if anything showed up. I’ve had good luck doing that in the past, and hoped that it worked again. I could see the first owl from when I arrived in the morning was still there in the grassy cells, and as I waited, I noticed that the owl hunted in a pattern of sorts.
The owl would perch on one of the pipes…
…or “ridges” that delineate each of the grassy cells…
…in a location where it could look down into two of the cells at a time. It would stay in each location for 15 to 30 minutes, and if it didn’t see anything, ….
…it would zig-zag across one cell to a spot where it could see down into the next two cells.
Watching the owl working its way across the grassy cells one pair at a time, I wondered if I could get in position ahead of the owl without it changing its pattern. The answer is obvious now, from the photos above, it was working well enough. In the photo above, you can see some of the pipes and other objects that the owl was using as perches in the background.
So, once the owl had moved, I would move to a point as close as I dared to get to the next place that I thought that the owl would land the next time that it moved.
Apparently, snowy owls hunt in a pattern that one can use to get into a better position to get good photos, one of many things I learned this day. The next thing that I learned is that snowy owls, at least the one I was watching, have a low success rate while they are hunting.
I was fine tuning how I was positioning myself anticipating the owls moves as the day went on. At one point, the owl took off, I didn’t save any of those photos, but the owl dove down into a cell, and didn’t come flying out the other side as I expected, so I went to see why…
…the owl kept digging for whatever it had missed, for so long that I switched over to shoot video for this.
If I’d have been smart, I would have kept the camera rolling, for the owl took off a few seconds later, which would have been great, until I lost the focus since I have to focus manually to shoot video.
But, I had another piece to the puzzle that I was putting together to get good action shots of the owl. It wasn’t long before the owl took off and tried for another rodent.
I was shooting in high-speed burst mode, and had already learned that shooting in RAW filled the buffer of the 60D much quicker than shooting jpeg. So, I would shoot a burst when the owl was at its closest to me, then stop. Bad move, because I missed the owl pouncing.
That was a split second after the owl had hit the ground. Once again, it had missed whatever it had been after.
It seemed to be having trouble figuring out how to get out of the reeds…
…until it remembered that it was a bird and could just fly out.
I was quite pleased with the way that my plan was working, I was getting fair shots of the owl both as it was flying, and as it was perched.
I was shooting in RAW so that I could edit the photos I was shooting, but up to this point, none of the photos have been edited other than being cropped. Being nearly all white, getting the exposure correct on the snowy owls can be tricky, especially as the background changes behind the owls as they fly. I wasn’t completely happy with the white balance either, snowy owls aren’t blue…
…but if I changed the white balance of my camera from cloudy to shade, then the owl and especially the background came out orange.
So once I was home, I played with the editing features of the Canon software that came with the camera for this one, and I got the white balance as close as I could come. In some ways I prefer the warmer colors of the “orange” owl, but this next one is as close to neutral, and real life, as I could get.
This was my first real attempt at any type of editing other than cropping, and I found out that using the Canon software is very tedious, but worth the effort at times to change an image from just a so-so one into something better.
Who would have thought that I’d be tweaking the white balance or exposure of my images as I have done with some of the rest of the photos from the day?
It’s becoming clearer to me all the time that no matter how one sets up a camera, there are limitations to how well the images will look as they come out of the camera. It was late summer when I lamented that I couldn’t adjust the exposure compensation in one-quarter of a stop increments, as one-third of a stop sometimes seemed to be too much at times. Software adjustments allow me to make those small exposure adjustments that can’t be done by the camera. Or, to fine tune the white balance when the weather on a particular day doesn’t match up exactly with the camera settings available to use.
Maybe it’s because my skills as a photographer are improving that I’ve come to realize the limitations of what a digital camera can record as matched against what my eye sees as I press the shutter release. A year ago, I would have said that the editing that I’ve done to some of the following photos was cheating, now, I see it as overcoming the limitations of my gear, allowing me to capture what I saw.
But, there’s almost cheating by editing photos, and then there’s real cheating.
I had been following the one snowy owl around for a couple of hours, and was getting good at positioning myself to get some good photos. One other vehicle had stopped by at one point, the occupants shot a few photos then left the owl to me again. I was quite pleased with myself for having learned how the owl hunted, being able to predict the best position to get to ahead of the owl, and the photos that I was shooting. I did wish that there had been more light so I could have shot at a faster shutter speed so that the images would have been sharper…
…but overall, I thought that things were going well. All that was about to change.
Some of you may remember the first time that I posted about the snowy owls, and the guy with the BIG LENS that was a real jerk. I was afraid that I would be seeing a rerun of that episode, but in some ways, this day was worse. This guy with the BIG LENS set-up his gear….
…the type of gear that I can only dream of owning, unless I win the lottery. ;)
Since the owl had just moved to another spot to look for food, I looked around, and picked out the next perch that I thought that the owl would use as it continued to hunt in the grassy cells, and positioned myself to wait for the owl to come to me. It all went according to plan, and even the light began to improve, for it wasn’t long before the owl took off, and I was able to shoot these.
I was really patting myself on the back for having been able to shoot that series of photos, and the owl had even gotten a mouse to eat as you can see. But, I didn’t know that owl and the I had gotten some help from the other photographer.
The owl soon took off from the post, and headed back to where it had come from.
I thought that it was odd that the owl went back, but I reasoned that it had been successful, and maybe it had seen or heard more mice in the same area as it had captured the first. So, I sat and waited, and it wasn’t long before the owl came back towards me. This time, I had even a better idea of the route the owl would take, and was able to get better photos.
The owl had even gotten another mouse, but this time, it had been a white mouse. Wait a minute, something fishy is going on here, there are no white mice in the wild that I know of.
I had been watching the owl intently all of the time, and not paying any attention to what the guy with the BIG LENS was up to. The owl quickly returned to the spot from which it had started the previous two flights, and this time, I watched what the guy with the BIG LENS was up to.
After a few minutes had gone by, I watched him get his camera gear all set, then reach into his Jeep to get something out of it. He walked out into the edge of the grassy cell, held out one arm for the owl to see, then tossed something, a mouse, out for the owl. It didn’t take long for the owl to react, it took off right away.
The guy with the BIG LENS must have had the BIG LENS set to shoot photos of the owl as it took off, and he must have triggered that camera remotely. He used the shorter lens to photograph the owl as it flew.
Even though I had seen the mouse thrown out into the grassy cells for the owl, I couldn’t resist shooting another batch of photos.
It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, as this time, I was 95% certain of the exact route the owl was going to take. I knew about where the owl was going to rise up above the mound that forms the grassy cell, so I pre-focused on that spot, and caught the owl just as it appeared in my view again.
I knew that it would probably drop back down into the second cell, so it was easier to follow the owl in flight.
And, I knew almost with certainty where it would land, so I pre-focused on the post with the reflector, and waited for the owl to appear in the viewfinder.
Yes, it’s a lot easier to get better photos if you cheat and use bait to get an animal close to you, and to have it do something that you’re prepared for!
I debated whether I would even post those last three series of images, since the owl had been baited by the guy with the BIG LENS. I believe that it is unethical to use bait while photographing nature, and while I wasn’t the one throwing mice out for the owl, I benefited from it, especially in that last series when I knew what was going on.
On the other hand, I had been watching the owl all afternoon, and had positioned myself where I did based on having watched the owl, and getting to know how it behaved as it hunted. There was a high probability that the owl would have landed on the fence post with the reflector the next time that it had moved, even if the guy with the BIG LENS hadn’t come along to toss mice out to the owl. But, that would have been a one time deal, not something that the owl repeated several times for me to learn its exact flight path in order to be prepared for when the owl took that flight.
In case you’re wondering the guy with the BIG LENS got some fantastic photos and a video of the owl, I know that because a few of them have been posted on the web site of the Muskegon County Nature Club, so I know who the guy with the BIG LENS is.
I decided that I would use those photos that I shot for several reasons. One, they are a record of what I saw that day, including the guy baiting the owl. Two, I had invested most of a day in learning how to get close to the owl as it hunted, it wasn’t my fault that some one showed up to bait the owl just as the light got better. I shot over 400 images of the owl and many of them are close to being as good as the last three series of photos from when the owl was being baited. The photos from earlier in the day would have been as good or better than those that I shot as the owl was being baited if the light had been as good earlier. And, like I said, I chose where to position myself based on having learned the owl’s habits, not on the fact that some one started tossing mice out to the owl.
Still, it is an ethical issue that I’m still having trouble coming to grips with. At the time, I was so disgusted with myself, that I went over to shoot this crummy shot of two bald eagles that I had been keeping an eye on as I was watching the owl as a way of atoning for the sin of having photographed the owl that had been baited.
Well, that all took place a week ago. I haven’t had much time to work on this post, as I was either working long hours the first three days of the week, or out walking trying to get a few good photos despite the constant gloomy weather that’s been in place here. I still haven’t come to terms with having photographed the owl even though I knew some one else was feeding it, I may not ever. But, I’ll have more about that in future posts, right now, it’s time to stick a fork in this one, as it’s done.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is a continuation about a trip that I made to Muskegon on December 6th, in which I asked myself if I’m spoiled by all the wildlife that I’m able to photograph. My answer was, yes I am spoiled.
That plays into some of the reasons that I’m not able to get the quality of images that I would like to be shooting.
That may need some explanation. I went to Muskegon, and I was up to at least 14 eagles when I stopped counting eagles. It’s too easy not to work very hard at getting good photos when good subjects are so abundant, even if I seldom see those subjects in situations that would lead to great images. I assume that great photos will just fall into my lap if I go there often enough, but it doesn’t happen that way. Relying on luck is not the way to success, it’s like playing the lottery in hopes of getting rich.
Another easy way to excuse my poor images is to blame the equipment, thinking that if only I could afford the best of camera gear, that my images would become that much better. Yes, and no.
When I research how the good wildlife photographers get the photos they do, I see that they are often using a camera and lens combination that cost nearly four times what I have invested in all my photo gear combined. That is, if they’re not photographing captive subjects. ;)
Even some of the people who I bump into in the Muskegon area have lenses that I can only dream of owning someday. On the day when I was able to get fairly good images of a peregrine falcon…
…a person I was talking to was using a Canon 600 mm L series lens, which retails for $12,000! That lens alone cost twice what all the gear that I have combined has cost me. Even if I could afford that lens, I probably wouldn’t buy it, I’d rather spend the money taking extended vacations to shoot more photos. Besides, what good is the best equipment if I don’t know how to use it, or I forget to prepare for the photo opportunities that it’s a safe bet will come my way?
That’s where being spoiled by being able to see birds and animals that most people never see becomes a handicap in a way, like I said earlier, I assume if I go to Muskegon often enough, great photos will just happen, and I don’t think of the ways that I could improve my photos as I’m shooting them. And, because of how often I’m able to see rare birds, and my desire to add to the list of rare birds that I’m able to photograph, I lack the patience to sit and capture the moment that would result in a spectacular image.
The snowy owl is a perfect example of that. Due to the circumstances, I couldn’t get as close to the owl as I would have liked, so I knew that I would be cropping the images that you see here. I sat there watching the owl, and occasionally shot a few more photos if it looked as if it was going to do something besides sit and soak up the sunshine.
These may look like repeats of the same photos as in the last post from Muskegon, but they’re not. Wanting to make sure that I had good photos, whenever the owl moved at all, even if it was just fluffing its feathers, I shot more photos.
After about twenty minutes of watching the owl, this is the way that I was beginning to feel about sitting there.
I did sit up and take notice when the owl turned into the wind to check out something that it had heard.
I was getting bored sitting there, I wanted to go searching for something new to photograph, and I shouldn’t have been.
I should have been thinking of ways to get even better images of the owl, such as trying the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but I didn’t. I should have gotten the other camera body that had the 300 mm prime lens and tele-converter on it ready for action photos, but I didn’t. So when the owl did take flight, I was totally unprepared, and not even paying much attention to the owl by then, so I missed the shots that could have been the great ones. I lack the patience to sit in one place for very long, watching one perched bird, even if it is a snowy owl, for me to capture the special shots.
Well, that and who knows what I’ll find next to photograph, especially in the Muskegon area. The lure of seeing something new to photograph limits how long I am willing to sit in one place hoping to shoot a great photo. In some ways, starting the My Photo Life List project has been a mistake of sorts as far as my ability to sit and watch one bird is concerned.
I’m more concerned with seeing and photographing new to me species of birds for that project, and less concerned with sitting in one spot photographing a species that I have already gotten reasonably good photos of for that project. I need to strike a better balance between finding new species, and getting better photos of species I’ve already done.
I’ve considered either making or purchasing hides, or as we used to call them, blinds, and try staying hidden in one to get the great images, but I doubt that I could sit still for very long.
There have been a few days each of the last two summers when I’ve gone to Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park and hiked back to the observation deck there by the lake to use it as a hide. About half an hour is all I can sit before I start wandering around the area chasing dragonflies or looking for wildflowers. That is, unless I nap there, and I’m not going to shoot many great photos while sleeping, other than the ones in my dreams. ;)
It’s much more interesting to me to chase the smaller birds around in hopes of getting a good photo of them. It’s the “thrill of the hunt” as it is in progress that keeps me focused on one bird at that time. I can hold the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) up and heave it around following the smaller birds around as they flit from place to place in search of food for as long as it takes for the bird to make a mistake and allow me a clear photo of it.
But photos of small birds seldom make people “oooo” and “aah” over them.
If there are action shots to shoot, I can sit in one spot and shoot away for as long as the action continues.
You may be thinking that these are pretty good, what’s this guy complaining about? Well, I tend to remember my failures more so than my successes. I had two major failures on this trip, one because of my forgetting to switch off the Optical Stabilization of the Beast, one because my 60D body with the Beast on it doesn’t auto-focus fast enough for what I was trying to shoot.
First, my failure, I saw a rough-legged hawk flying almost straight at me.
The hawk began hovering nearly directly over my head, so I got the camera body all set as far as exposure and switched to the high-speed burst mode of shooting, but since I had the lens pointed nearly vertical, the OS of the Beast caused ghosting in every one of the nearly 100 photos that I shot before the hawk moved off.
When the hawk did move off, it wasn’t very far, and it landed, but the heat waves coming off from the bare ground spoiled this image.
Now then, for the camera failure, I saw a red-tailed hawk being mobbed by crows, and the hawk flew right past me in an attempt to shake the crows off from its tail. I started shooting, but the auto-focus system of my camera couldn’t keep up with the hawk, notice that each of these photos gets a little sharper as the hawk slowed down to land.
I zoomed out a little for these, as one of the crows made one last pass at the hawk.
Then I zoomed back in to catch the hawk looking at me as if to ask why the crows were picking on him.
One good thing is that if I have some good light to work with, my portraits of birds are getting better most of the time.
Now then, we interrupt this post for a news flash! I did a dumb thing this afternoon, I went to the camera store to check out a new Canon 7D Mk II and also a 400 mm prime lens with doubler behind it, now I can’t stop drooling. What a camera and what a lens!
To begin with, the 7D Mk II will auto-focus if I use the Beast and the 1.4 X tele-converter, giving me an effective focal length of 700 mm. With my 60D bodies, I have to manually focus, and the images were only sharp if they were shot at close range. Here’s what the 7D, the Beast, and the Tamron extender can do together, shot through a dirty window.
The 7D will also auto-focus if I use a 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm prime lens I already own.
The 7D won’t auto-focus if I use the 400 mm prime lens and a 2 X tele-converter behind it, but here’s what I got manually focusing.
And, I got this shot inside, handheld at 800 mm and a shutter speed of only 1/100th!
You’re probably thinking that these images aren’t that great, but I was giving the camera and lenses the torture tests, much higher ISO settings than I can get good photos with currently using my 60D bodies at extreme focal lengths and very slow shutter speeds for the most part.
The first thing that I noticed is that both the Beast and the 300 mm prime lenses I have were sharp at all distances when using them on the 7D body. The differences that they show when used on my 60D bodies has to be due to the body, and not the lenses. I shot quite a few photos close, mid-distances, and far away, and the Beast didn’t go blurry past 100 feet as it does on my bodies, nor did the 300 mm prime go soft at mid-distances. I had stopped trying the 1.4 extender behind the Beast, the results were too poor. Not with what I saw from the 7D today, I’d have no qualms using that set-up for birds like the snowy owl in good light at any distance.
Even with the 2X extender behind the 300 mm prime lens, it was sharp at every distance, and I didn’t have to play games with the focus to get the images sharp as I do now. With the 1.4 X extender, it was also sharp at every distance that I tried.
But the real shocker was how much better the 400 mm prime lens that I tried out is than either the Beast or the 300 mm prime lens. If you remember, I flipped back and forth between the 300 mm and 400 mm prime lenses for months, and purchased the 300 mm because of how close it can focus. I hate to admit it, but I should have purchased the 400 mm prime instead, maybe I will some day.
First, I have to save up for the 7D body first, maybe I’ll find out once I get it dialed in for my existing lenses that I’ll have no need for the 400 mm lens.
I see that I’ve been prattling on again, not making much sense. What my trip today all boils down to is this, the auto-focusing system of the 7D is head and shoulders above my 60D as is its high ISO/lower noise capabilities. Just what I need for shots like these.
Or this one.
I’m really geeked at the idea of using a 7D Mk II next spring, so much so that it would be all that I could write about right now, so for now, this is the end.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about a trip that I made to Muskegon on December 6th, and I have to ask myself, am I getting spoiled by all the somewhat rare birds that I see so often? Maybe the better way to phrase the question is am I getting spoiled by everything that I see in nature that few people get to witness in a lifetime?
Seeing a bald eagle isn’t as rare of an occurrence as it used to be here in Michigan, but how many people ever see seven eagles together squabbling over a kill?
Or, as in my last post, get photos of bald eagles, a golden eagle, snowy owl, snow bunting, rough-legged hawk, and a red-tailed hawk all in the same day, no matter how poor the quality of the photos were.
And speaking of my photos, I was thoroughly disappointed in the quality of them in my last post, except for the heron in flight, and most of the photos that will appear in this post.
Warning: One of my long-winded rants is to follow!
As you know, I’m planning to purchase a Canon 7D Mk II early next year, in hopes that it will improve my images. To make sure that I’m making a wise purchase that will actually help me to improve my photos, I have been watching some online video reviews of that camera. That may well lead to another rant, but I’ll stick to just one right now.
One of the videos that I watched was titled something along the lines of “Photographing wildlife using the new Canon 7D Mk II”, so I thought that I would find it helpful, not really.
It turned out that some guy who worked for an online photography magazine, and didn’t seem to know much about photography, joined one of Canon’s paid professional wildlife photographers with pre-production versions of the 7D Mk II.
They didn’t go to some wilderness location to shoot actual wildlife, they went to an animal ranch where they shot semi-tame mountain lions and wolves. They were out at mid-morning, with great lighting, and first a handler brought out a mountain lion and fed it treats to keep it performing for the photographers, who didn’t have to worry about bad lighting or the big cat running off. Next up, another handler brought out two wolves, and fed them treats to perform for the photogs, who were just a few feet away from the “wildlife”. The longest lens the photographers used were 70-200 mm.
I was thinking, that’s not the real world as far as wildlife photography that I know and do, any one can shoot good photos under the conditions that were shown in this video.
That video isn’t the only one that I’ve watched where the “wildlife” photographers were shooting in a controlled environment, another example is that many of the great images of raptors are shot at rehab centers for the raptors. The photographers can use a short lens, stick the camera right in an raptor’s face, and shoot away. They have the bird positioned for the best possible light and background, so of course they get great photos.
In fact, the more that I try to learn how the experts get such great photos, the more that I learn that most of them shoot in at least somewhat controlled circumstances these days. I think that I read or heard of one award-winning wildlife photographer being “busted” for having shot many of his images at zoos.
Well, I really don’t see much difference between shooting at a zoo, a raptor rehab center, or an animal ranch were trained wildlife is trotted out to perform for photographers.
So, the question is, how can I attempt to get photos of equal quality when I’m chasing totally wild critters as they go about their business? I can’t, although I’m always disappointed in that. I suppose that I’ll always be trying, even though logic tells me that it’s a losing battle.
However, that brings up something else, the dichotomy within myself. On one hand, I want to shoot the very best images that I can, on the other, I love watching wildlife in “action” and capturing those moments to share with others who never get the chance to see what I do.
Here’s an example of that, how many people have seen a bald eagle slip and fall on the ice? Watch the eagle on the far right.
(Yes, I know that I used poor grammar in the caption, it’s from the old Tweety Bird cartoons)
Notice all the other eagles watching the one fall.
Missing from those still photos are the sounds that the eagles were making, I swear that I heard a few snickers coming from the others as the one crashed on the ice. ;)
Okay, that may be stretching it, but the eagles were very vocal, especially in this next sequence. In the flock, there was one adult, with the rest of the eagles being juveniles of varying ages. I think that the juvenile eagle with the kill was one of the adult’s offspring, and that the adult tried to chase the other juveniles off in this series.
Notice the postures of the other eagles.
The adult was using the wind to provide most of the lift to keep it airborne, it hardly flapped its wings at all.
It then let the wind take it backwards…
…where it made a very graceful landing on the ice.
I also had photos of the adult skating across the ice by spreading its wings and letting the wind blow it across the ice, and a series of one of the other juveniles attempting to chase the one with the kill away from the food. But, the question is, how interesting would people who read my blog find those photos, when there are so many of the same flock of eagles?
Another question is, how could I improve those photos? Well, I could have gotten the white balance correct for the conditions at the time. Those were shot just as daylight was providing just enough light to let me shoot those with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and the images were not cropped at all. I suppose that I could have cropped a little, but the main point was all the eagles together on the ice.
At least I got the white balance better on those than my first shot of the morning, an eagle flying over a flock of several thousand Canada geese.
In my defense, I had anticipated a sunny morning, so I had my cameras set to sunny for white balance, and didn’t have time to switch the setting in time to capture the eagle over the geese. All that ice didn’t help either, turning everything blue, I suppose that I may have been able to fix that with software, we’ll see in a few months. This is one time when setting the white balance to auto may have been the best choice, as I tried both the cloudy and shade settings, and everything still looks too blue because of the early morning light on the ice. And, since it was daybreak as I shot the flock of eagles, the light was changing rapidly, as you’ll see.
This is one of those bad photos that I love, the eagle with the kill decided that it had enough of the other eagles trying to take its food away from it, and took off hoping to find some peace and quiet. As all the other eagles were taking off, one was left standing on the ice watching the others as if asking “Hey, where is everybody going?”.
The eagle with the food was soon followed by two other eagles…
…and eventually, the entire flock.
The one with the food landed, and the squabbling began all over again.
These next two images, while very poor, show how brave, or foolhardy, a crow can be.
I’m not sure, but I think that the eagle is the golden eagle, but the light was too poor for me to be able to make a positive ID. It doesn’t matter, either species of eagle could have had the crow for breakfast if it were a mind to. So, how did the crow know that it was safe to walk that close to the eagle?
I drove over to the Swanson/Laketon fields in hopes of finding some snow geese, no luck there, but there were four more eagles there as this poor photo shows.
I know that these four can not be part of the flock on the ice, there’s no way that they could have flown past me without my having seen them. Besides, I shot poor photos of one of those four flying past me, coming from the opposite direction of where I had left the flock of seven just a few minutes before. So, that’s thirteen eagle seen so far, the seven fighting for food, the eighth on the ice, out of the frame, the eagle with the crow walking past it, now these four. But still, no photos that I would consider to be very good at all.
While at the Swanson/Laketon fields, I shot my favorite silo to capture the mood of the morning in a HDR image.
The 14th eagle of the morning let me shoot a few better photos, this is the same eagle on the same fence post as in my last post.
You may be able to tell that I had to shoot with the eagle between myself and the early morning sun, and that I moved around, trying to get the best light and background. You may also be able to tell that it was a bit windy.
As I was shooting the eagle, a huge flock of starlings flew past, resulting in this horrible photo.
My only reasons for including it is to show what I saw, and when I returned to photographing the eagle, I could tell that it was unhappy about being upstaged by a flock of starlings.
Then, it gave me my best photo ever of a bald eagle in flight, sort of. These two have not been cropped at all.
Just my luck! This eagle has chosen a fence post that borders the county landfill as one of its favorite places to perch, and when I catch the eagle in flight, it’s with the landfill in the background, sigh.
That gets back to how I began this post. On one hand, I had eagles up the wazoo, up to fourteen at this point, and I saw plenty more over the course of the day. But, as the day went on, it was too difficult to keep track of which ones I had already seen, and which ones were “new”, so I stopped counting.
On the other hand, I saw fourteen eagles and got only fair shots of one of them, with bad lighting and background. I could have easily gone to the Blandford Nature Center, where they rehab raptors, and shot great images there without having to work for the photos.
I also tend to forget that most people never see fourteen (or more) eagles in a year, let alone one day, but that’s Muskegon for you. There are several breeding pairs of eagles in the Muskegon area to begin with, then, as the inland lakes begin to freeze over, the eagles that reside in those areas migrate out to the Lake Michigan shoreline so as to be able to find fish, their favorite food.
Some of you may remember a post I did a few years ago in the spring, when another photographer and I watched nearly three dozen eagles in action, fishing a small patch of open water on Mona Lake. I try not to become jaded, but after a while it becomes “Oh, another eagle, I want to see something new”. That’s probably a bad thing, but it does say a lot about the comeback that the eagles have made here in Michigan. It’s no longer a surprise to see one anywhere, anytime. It’s not even unusual to see several of them together any longer.
Still, the photographer in me wants far better photos than any that I have gotten to this point, and I tend to forget that it was just over a month ago that I shot some really good photos of two eagles.
Sorry, I had to throw that one in to remind myself that I do shoot good photos from time to time.
I know that I’ve done several posts along the same lines as this one, bemoaning the fact that the critters and weather don’t often cooperate in ways that would enable me to shoot better images more often. It’s also something that I struggle with as I’m choosing which photos to save and put into my blog posts.
I could put more emphasis on just posting very few, but higher quality images….
…for how many people have seen a snowy owl, let alone one watching a bald eagle soaring overhead. I deleted the photo of the eagle, as I’ve posted enough of them already, and it wasn’t very good.
I did shoot a few videos on this trip, the “goose explosion” in my last post was one of them, here’s another, of the snowy owl.
I removed the 1.4 X tele-converter from behind the 300 mm prime lens for that video.
Here’s the flock of eagles from earlier, as shot with the Beast.
All my videos seem to share three common elements, the wind, the sounds of geese honking, and the need for improvement on my part in shooting video. ;) Add a fourth thing to that list, most of my videos have been rather boring. All the owl did was turn its head back and forth, and the eagles were taking a break from their fighting while I shot the video of them.
However, that ties into my rant about wildlife photographers that shoot under controlled conditions, there wasn’t an animal handler just out of view tossing treats to either the eagles or the owl to keep them within range of my camera. I never know what’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen.
And, when it does happen, the critter may be moving at the time, resulting in a slightly blurred image.
By the way, that was the second snowy owl of the day, here’s the first, shot at very long-range and cropped as much as I dared to.
So, am I spoiled? Yes I am! I live 45 miles from a place where I can watch over a dozen bald eagles, see at least two snowy owls, and all the other wildlife that I’ve posted photos of over the past few years. I’m not as spoiled as the “wildlife” photographers who shoot captive critters though, and I’ll probably never be able to match the quality of their photos.
However, I still have a long way to go in improving my photography skills. I try to analyze things that I did right, and things that I did wrong after every photo outing that I make, even my daily walks around home.
One thing that stands out about this trip is that I need to think ahead more, and be better prepared. I have two camera bodies, and two fairly long lenses, but up to this point, I’ve been using both set-ups the same way to account for the differences in performance between the Beast and the 300 mm prime lens as far as how sharp that each lens is at different distances.
One thing that I did right, when I first saw the second snowy owl, was that I shot a few photos in jpeg using each camera set-up. Then, since the owl wasn’t going anywhere soon, I switched over and shot RAW using the Beast for all the rest of the images, in anticipation of being able to edit my images in the future. What I should have also done was to set-up the second camera body to shoot action photos in case the owl had decided to fly away, which you know that it did eventually. But silly me, I still had both set-ups dialed in for portraits, so when the owl did fly away, I only was able to get one fair shot of it.
I was sitting there in my vehicle watching the owl as it looked around…
…fluffed itself against the cold wind…
…and did some preening…
..and I sat there just watching it, rather than getting ready for what I should have known was going to happen, leaving me with photos like this one.
If I had set-up the second body to shoot the owl when it flew off, I could have gotten a much better image, as I did here.
To be continued…..
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This post is about a trip that I made to Muskegon on November 30th, and it will be relatively short. The weather report had promised a nice morning, with a front arriving during the mid-afternoon, bringing some rain. They were wrong, it was already raining lightly by the time that I got to Muskegon just after sunrise. Making things worse as far as photography, there was also a fog developing, which became so thick at times that it was hard to see the birds, as you will see. I did get the bird that I went after though, a snowy owl.
But, back to the beginning of the day, two bad images of a rough-legged hawk taking flight.
Here’s a red-tailed hawk for comparison.
I also shot these very poor photos of a snow bunting, which ticks me off, since this is the first time that I’ve seen one out in the open.
I tried the noise reduction software that came with my camera on this next image, it didn’t help.
I saw a number of bald eagles, and shot photos equally as poor as the ones so far, but one eagle did perch close enough to me for a few photos of it playing with its food.
You can see that the eagle had been banded (ringed), which I didn’t know still took place with bald eagles, since they have become so numerous around here. Anyway, here’s a uncropped image of the eagle moving so that I couldn’t see what it had killed that morning.
By the way, these were shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and as well as that lens performs in good light, in poor light, it doesn’t do well as you can see. One more from it, of the eagle letting me know that it didn’t appreciate being photographed as it ate.
I also had the Canon 300 mm L series prime lens set-up with the 1.4 X tele-converter on the second camera body, and used it for this one.
I have to say that the Beast produced images that look almost exactly as the scene looked, fog and all, but that the 300 mm lens was able to cut through the fog, and produce a much better image, most of the time. Later, I saw a golden eagle, and the 300 mm prime produced a sharper, clearer image, but the color of the golden eagle’s neck didn’t reproduce accurately, so I’ll I have use the ones from the Beast.
I even tried running an image through Photomatix HDR software to get rid of the noise, and for more accurate color, but it didn’t help.
That’s funny, the software not helping, because I saw this scene…
…and tried a HDR image of it…
…and Photomatix removed most of what little fog that the fog that the wide-angle lens had captured. I had forgotten that telephoto lenses make a fog look thicker than it is, and wide-angle lenses make the fog look less thick. Darn, I liked the scene as it appeared to the naked eye, with fog partially obscuring the silo and woods behind it.
You’re probably wondering if I was able to shoot any good photos, sort of, I got close enough to the snowy owl to get a few good ones.
But, I made a mistake while shooting those. Because of the poor light, I opened up the aperture of the Beast so that I could shoot at a lower ISO setting. Then, to make sure that I got the owl’s face perfectly in focus, I switched from using the center focusing point to the highest one available on my 60D. The owl was ten to 12 feet above me, so I was shooting up at more of an angle than it looks in these photos. I was worried that if I used the center focusing point, I’d get the owl’s chest in focus but not its face. It did work great while the owl was perched.
I had shot quite a few photos of the owl, then stepped back a short distance while I reviewed a few images to see how well that they had come out. It was then that the owl decided to give me a great photo-op, by circling around me, which I completely blew!
In the first place, swinging the Beast around isn’t easy. In the second place, the owl was so close to me that I couldn’t get him all in the frame at 500 mm. To make things worse, do you know how hard it is to find a white bird against a white sky? And, to top everything off, I still had the camera set to use the highest focusing point.
I couldn’t figure out why the camera wouldn’t focus on the owl as it flew past me at first, then, I remembered the focusing point, and tried to keep the right one on the owl instead of keeping the owl in the center of the viewfinder.
I did get it’s far wing in focus, sort of. The camera didn’t like focusing on a white bird against a white sky very much either.
But, the real killer was this one.
I had the upper focusing point on the owl, but then, most of the owl was out of the frame. The owl had made a tight circle around me, landed in the same spot it had taken off from, but didn’t stick around long after. He took off for the far side of the field, and I was left to kick myself repeatedly for not getting better photos because of my stupidity.
You may ask why I didn’t switch the focus point as the owl flew around me, I didn’t have the time. The owl’s flight lasted less than 10 seconds, and I have to push three buttons to change focusing points.
Anyway, I did get very good shots of a great blue heron, although the first one isn’t that great. I was as surprised to see a heron still there, and the heron was surprised to see a human out on a day such as it was.
Two things about that photo, one, I didn’t have a chance to get set before I began shooting, so I missed the composition that I would have liked. Two, that was also shot with the Beast in the fog, why these came out so clear is beyond me, but I’m glad that they did.
The heron kept coming almost straight at me.
Needless to say, none of those were cropped at all. I only wish that the black drainage pipe wasn’t there, I wonder if I could Photoshop that out? ;) Those were shot at ISO 3200, the eagles at ISO 1600, there are times when I’m not quite sure why images end up looking as they do. The eagles at a lower ISO were horrible, this heron came out well.
Anyway, I also shot a whitetail deer running.
And, I caught two mature bald eagles having a conversation.
But, not long after that, I decided to pack it in and give up for the day, since the weather was going downhill even more than it had been. I did find another heron though on my way out.
Okay then, with the promise of better weather yesterday, December 6th, I returned to Muskegon again. All the way over as I was driving, I could see a bright full moon as it was about to set in the west. Guess what happened? Just as I got off from the expressway, the clouds rolled in for a few hours.
So, I got to the Muskegon County wastewater facility just at dawn, as I had planed, but instead of sun, I got cloudy skies. I shot over 600 photos, but I’m going to have to decide how many to bore all of you with that look like this.
As I sat there shooting the eagles, I got images of them threatening to pounce on the others, them sliding around on the ice, and one of the eagles falling as it slid on the ice, and so on. But, they were all shot in the pre-dawn light as the one above. I haven’t decided how many to use. There were actually eight eagles in sight, but one stayed out of the frame the entire time. No matter how poor the images are, it still impressive to see so many eagles all together like that, and watch how they interact.
I did get a snowy owl in better light, but wasn’t able to get as close to it.
I also shot another video of the huge number of geese there.
I lost the focus about half-way through, but the sound is still impressive.
I guess that this one is finished, I don’t have much else to say that isn’t boring.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!