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…
…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.
Besides, I’m already missing seeing these things…
…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.
The biggest surprise was hundreds of swans! These are part of a larger flock in the west lagoon…
…these are a small flock from the east lagoon…
…I was hoping to make a positive ID with a close-up…
…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.
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.
Gulls almost always are obliging subjects to practice on.
But, I wish that the light had been better for this one.
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.
It was using the wind to provide lift as it looked for possible prey below it.
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.
Of course on a day when there was poor light…
…I see the crows doing just that, mobbing an eagle, even catching a ride on the eagle’s back now and then.
There were times when I thought that the crows were teasing the 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.
If only it had been a sunny day!
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.
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…
…and which would do the best on birds 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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.
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.
I also shot a few hand-held with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens.
I then set-up to shoot the last vestiges of the sunrise over Lake Michigan.
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.
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.
While these would have been better with more light, I can’t really complain about these, my low-light images continue to improve.
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.
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…
…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.
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…
…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.
But, a pair of mallards flying into the frame distracted me, so the shoveler was some distance away when I finally got this photo.
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.
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.
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.
And, here’s the other end of the spectrum, a herring gull portrait, shot with the 100-400 mm lens.
It always helps to have a willing model that’s willing to pose, as was the 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.
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…
…although a little bit of fog tried to form just as the sun was rising…
…and there was some wonderful light as the sun began to climb above the horizon.
It’s too bad that I couldn’t catch this buck in that light…
…and since it is hunting season here, the buck was in no mood to pose for me.
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.
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.
But, I kept trying to do better with the 300 mm lens all day.
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.
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…
…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.
It hung around for a minute or two, giving me the look…
…then it was off to chase the gulls and ducks for a while.
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.
I’ve written about the fog on Sunday, how foggy was it?
When I got to the clay pits, I decided to shoot a less clichéd shot, but in the same vein.
On the other hand, you couldn’t have asked for clearer skies on Monday.
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.
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.
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”.
The heron had to use its wings for balance, and it still nearly slipped off from the railing.
Then, I got the look, as if to ask, “You didn’t film that did you?”
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.
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.
Even though I was shooting in high-speed for these next two…
…I missed the exact moment when the gull made the snatch of a tidbit of food.
The American tree sparrows have returned from their summer home range to spend the winter here.
I wish that these two eagles would choose better places to perch than this.
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. 😉
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.
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.
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.
Morning light is almost always good, even in full sun, the warmth of the light adds a little more punch to the colors.
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…
…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.
I knew it was going to be a good day when this was one of the first photos that I shot today.
This one isn’t quite as sharp, but the blue jay was scolding me as it flew.
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.
Last weekend around home, I didn’t have as good of light as today, but I saw a lot more birds.
I also spotted a couple of red-squirrels taking it easy.
I’ve got room for two more, so one will be this praying mantis that would not pose for me.
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.
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…
…and the black swan…
…which aren’t natives here. I’ve gotten good photos of the trumpeter swans before…
…maybe not quite this close though.
And, the reason that I was able to get so many good shots of the mallards in flight…
…along with the fact that I ended up having great light the day that I visited…
…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…
…bald eagles harassing gulls…
..or looking for a duck that wasn’t paying attention to the eagle’s presence.
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.
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.
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…
…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…
…but, once in a while, I would get good light for a shot.
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.
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…
…with those big feet of theirs…
…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.
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…
…and two of the snow goose blue goose morphs in this video.
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.
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…
…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.
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.
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.
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…
…and these were shot at 800 mm with me focusing manually because that’s all the closer that I could get to the 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.
I added the 2 X extender for this shot.
I guess that I can get head shots of wild birds.
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!
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.
Seeing the ripples in the water when the ducks would dive, I shot this sequence.
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.
Our native wood ducks may be just as colorful…
…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…
…and this sleeping 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.
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.
Seeing a bird that stands nearly 6 feet tall is an imposing sight! Their wingspan is pretty impressive also.
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.
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…
…but those can’t compete with a mandarin duck…
…an un-cropped head shot of a trumpeter swan without resorting to using tele-converters to get closer to them…
…or even a close-up of a 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…
…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.
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.
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!
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.
The waterfowl butt bite!
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.
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.
I turned as the goose passed me, then got it centered in the viewfinder again.
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.
The gull moved even closer to the 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.
The gull perched next to the falcon must have thought the same thing, for it left soon after.
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.
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.
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.
The falcon was juking and jiving…
…trying to lose the gull.
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.
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.
I’ll get back to the sunrise shortly, but first, I was also able to get my best ever images of a 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…
…a few of the smaller species of birds…
…and even crossed another species of bird of from my list that I’m working on.
Cackling geese and Canada geese look almost the same, you have to take a close look to see the differences. The cackling geese are smaller, not much larger than a mallard, to begin with. However, you can easily be fooled by a late brood of Canada goose goslings. The cackling geese have a much smaller bill, it looks short and stubby as you can see especially well on the leader of the cackling goose flock in that photo. Looking at the same bird, you can also see the other major difference, the cackling geese have a much steeper slope to their faces, it’s nearly vertical, while a Canada goose’s face slopes down to the bill at less of an angle, and with more of a curve to it. I would have attempted to get better photos of the cackling geese, but I wasn’t sure that’s what they really were as I shot that photo. I’ve been fooled before. However, a couple of expert birders that I talked to a few minutes later and that checked the geese out through their spotting scopes agreed with my identification.
Anyway, my day began at first light at Duck Lake State Park well before sunrise. There wasn’t a cloud in sight to produce a great sunrise image, however there was mist rising from the warm waters of both Duck Lake and Lake Michigan as it began to get light enough to shoot photos.
I could have easily used three or more cameras mounted on tripods to shoot everything that I would have liked to have shot, as this was the view in the opposite direction over Lake Michigan.
As it was, I had the 60D mounted on the tripod with the 15-85 mm lens on it to shoot the wider shots of the actual sunrise over Duck Lake.
While there wasn’t as much color in the leaves on the trees on the far side of the lake as I had hoped, it was still a beautiful sunrise.
As the sunrise was unfolding, I was running around with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens, shooting other things, like this gull.
Not great, but now I know that in a pinch, I can shoot at that high of an ISO setting and come up with a usable photo.
I used the same set-up to shoot tighter shots of the sunrise as well.
So, the morning started off on a good foot. Once the sun was fully up, I packed up, and zipped over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where the first bird that I photographed was one of the eagles there.
You may have noticed that with good light, and a blue sky for a background, that I chose the sky instead of the tree for the background for a change. Of course, the eagle flew off as I was swapping tele-converters.
A short time and distance later, I spotted a juvenile eagle in another tree.
With the light as it was, I wasn’t sure if it was a juvenile bald eagle or a golden eagle at first, so I hung around for a short time, watching the eagle. When it did this…
…I could tell that it was a juvenile bald eagle, and that there had to be another large raptor near by, especially when the juvenile stared in the same direction as intently as it did.
I looked around, and sure enough, an adult had landed in the same tree, but was partially hidden from my view.
The juvenile was in no mood to put up with an adult in its tree, so it took off, but in the wrong direction, darn.
I got a slightly better view of the adult.
I looked for the trumpeter swans that had been seen there a few days before, but they had left already. I did manage to find a flock of snow buntings amongst all the pipits there, and got one good image of one of them.
I also found either an adult red-winged blackbird molting, or a juvenile growing his adult feathers, I’m not sure which.
Not long after that, I saw a junco getting ready to take a bath.
While they are plain-looking birds, I still think that they are cute, so I shot too many photos of it taking its bath.
As you can see, I had good light for this series, and I was able to switch the camera settings around to get good images of the junco for a change.
It was that type of day for the most part, warm and sunny, and many of the birds allowed me to get quite close to them at times, like these two black-bellied plovers.
Both of these were shot with the 2 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, and manually focused.
I’m getting better at the manual focus thing with that set-up as you can see. Later, I tried it out on a macro photo, with somewhat limited success.
There’s very little depth of field when shooting that close at 800 mm, and shooting handheld, the slightest breeze causes me to have trouble keeping the subject in focus. I do much better on larger flowers.
The new 100-400 mm lens will auto-focus using the center focus point only when I use the 1.4 X tele-converter, which gives me a focal length of 560 mm when I zoom the lens all the way in, as I did for these two.
It’s the same for this one as well.
Wouldn’t you know, give me a day with good light, and I shoot so many photos that I’ve almost filled this post already, and I haven’t gotten to the falcon and its interactions with the gulls yet. To make matters worse, I went to the bird sanctuary that I wrote about earlier in this post on Monday, and came home with over 600 images to sort through, which I’m still working on.
Shooting good photos at the bird sanctuary was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, too easy in a way, which is why I came home with so many photos to sort through. But then, I do okay when shooting completely wild birds as well at times.
So, I think that I’ll end this post here, and save my thoughts, and the rest of the images, for my next post. I think that they will go well with the photos that I shot at the bird sanctuary, and my thoughts on wildlife photography in general.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Fall is just beginning, but don’t blink
It’s the middle of October, when the fall colors are about at their peak for the season most years, but the majority of the trees are just beginning to turn color this year. They say that the delay is due to the warmer temperatures and copious amounts of rain that we’ve had. I know that on the day that I shot the falcons in the last post, the Muskegon area had received 1.6 inches of rain that morning. One of these days I’ll catch action like in those photos when I have some good light.
The day before, which was a Saturday, I went out around home to do some more playing with the new lens, and came home with this shot.
That may be an image that both a few of the experts and the general public may agree on as being a pretty good one.
Can’t say often enough how great it is to be using a camera and lens that perform almost flawlessly!
Maybe the combination of the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens work so well for me because they see things the way that I see things, I don’t know for sure though.
Here’s the rest from Saturday around home as I played.
I liked the juxtaposition between the red and green leaves here.
I found a Hickory tussock caterpillar and shot a little wide because I liked the red leaves it was on…
…then I moved closer for this one.
There’s still a few chicory flowers around, this one wasn’t looking the best, other than the dew covering it made it special.
I liked the color combination in this next one.
I shoot this shot every year, hoping to get some depth in the image, this year, I succeeded, at least to some degree.
There were still a few insects to be found.
And, a few birds let me get close for a change.
There were dabs of color here and there.
I was a little surprised to find a dragonfly on such a cool and cloudy day.
But not surprised at all by the cheerful chickadees flitting about as quickly as ever.
Here’s another of the more artistic images that I tried for.
It’s the same for this one.
Sometimes, one leaf is all that it takes to tell you that fall is approaching.
On Sunday, when I shot the falcons, I finally gave up shooting birds due to the fog and lack of light, and went off in search of a few landscapes to shoot. I found one good spot, the high banks over the Muskegon River just outside of Newaygo, Michigan. These next ones were shot with the 60D camera and 15-85 mm lens, and are three bracketed photos merged into a HDR image.
I like the view of the distant hills in the background better in that image, but I prefer the foreground in this one.
I also stopped to shoot across an un-named marsh, but a high-tension tower ruined the best view there, you can see the power lines going to the tower in this image, sorry.
As you can see, the color is just getting started here. I hope to do much better next weekend.
It’s funny, I would prefer rainy, foggy weather for shooting landscapes, and next weekend is forecast to be sunny. I wish that I would have had sunny weather this past weekend while shooting the falcons, and “bad” weather next weekend for landscapes when the colors are better.
I just read a hint online that you should shoot fall foliage photos in the middle of the day under bright sun. To be fair, that tip was on a tourist website, not one dealing with photography. Since I’ve learned the software, my equipment, and how to use it, I find that I get far more color saturation when the leaves are wet.
I’m just hoping that there are still leaves on the trees next weekend, for I have the feeling that once the leaves begin turning color that they won’t last long this year. That’s only my opinion based on what I’ve been seeing so far though.
It was a warm cloudy day today, I’d better get used to the clouds, for it won’t be long and sunny days will be as rare as hen’s teeth around here once the lake effect cloud machine kicks in gear for the winter.
I had to go and take a physical for work, holders of a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) are required to have a physical every other year, and I was due for mine. I thought that I’d be in and out in no time, since there were only a couple of people in the waiting room, but I was there for almost three hours.
Oh, I should update you on the water leak in my apartment. When I went in to renew my lease, I spoke to the manager. The next day, maintenance was here to cut a hole in the drywall, and they found the leak, a crack in the foundation wall. The next day, a crew was here to fix the leak, I thought that it wouldn’t be long before I had the use of the room back, wrong. It took another week for the drywall contractor to show up and repair the drywall, and that was over a week ago. The carpet is still torn up, but it has mostly dried again, because I’ve kept the window open whenever I could. I may have to give them another nudge.
Anyway, because of the lack of time, I did some more practicing around home here. As many photos as I’ve shot over the past few years, I shouldn’t need any practice, but the new 100-400 mm lens on the 7D is like an entirely new ball game.
When I get it right, the leaves seem to glow from within!
I think that this is a dandelion, but I didn’t check the leaves to be sure of that.
Whatever it is, I love the way that the petals are unfurling.
This is the weakest image from the day, and not just because I had to include the corner of the restroom building in the frame to get the rest of the scene as I wanted it.
It looks good here though, maybe I judged that one too harshly. I shot it because I liked the colors, and also to practice getting more depth to my images, I didn’t intend to post it when I shot it. Because the intensity of the various colors affect how our eyes see depth in a two-dimensional photograph, versus what we see in person in three dimensions, it helps me to shoot such photos in order to see how it all plays out in my images.
There’s still a few sparrows migrating through, they are about the last family of birds to migrate south for the winter, and it won’t be long and they’ll be gone too.
I hadn’t taken my tripod with me, so I did a test of sorts. I rested the camera and lens on a post, dialed down the ISO for good resolution, and shot this tree.
I may have to begin carrying my tripod all the time if this image is any indication of what I could be getting. Shoot fall foliage in bright sun, hah! There’s no way that the tree would have looked as good in bright sun with harsh shadows under the leaves.
As I walked along, thinking about how poorly the falcon photos from Sunday had turned out, it dawned on me that I had set the global exposure limits of the 7D Mk II after just a few weeks of using it. So, I went into the menu, boosted the high ISO noise reduction setting a little more, and then boosted the maximum ISO that the camera can use unless I over-ride it, up from 6400 to 12800, just to give it a try. I couldn’t get any of the robins that I saw in the woods to pose, but I did manage one shot of this nuthatch before it spotted me.
Of course that image can’t compare to one that was shot at a much lower ISO setting, and I have lost a little detail, but that looks just as good as my images shot at 6400 did before, and it was shot at ISO 8000. I think that I’m on to something. 😉
Every stop of light that I can get is very important when shooting in low light, so being able to shoot at ISO 12800 means another stop of faster shutter speed to freeze motion, or one more stop of aperture for more depth of field when needed.
The alternative would be to always use a tripod and shoot at lower ISO settings, but there’s no way that I could have set-up the tripod and gotten the photo of the nuthatch, it was gone when the shutter tripped the second time.
Maybe I could have shot the falcons with better results if I had used a gimbal head on a tripod to be able to follow them in flight, but that will take a great deal of practice. It was tough enough keeping a focus point on one of the falcons as fast as they are, and as little light as there was when I shot them.
If you think that I’m obsessed with the falcons, you may be correct, but trying to figure out solutions to get better images the next time something similar happens is how I improve my images overall.
I was going to write a little more about that, but it led my train of thought to something that I’ve been meaning to say for some time now, how each expert in the videos that I’ve watched makes recommendations that are exactly the opposite of what some of the other experts say. For example, Michael Melford says to never shoot with the sun at your back, except when you do, but he typically shoots landscapes and still life photos. Arthur Morris, who shoots mostly birds, says to always shoot with the sun at your back, except when you don’t. Each genre of photography has its own rules, and as always, those rules were meant to be broken.
Anyway, I’m having some more large prints made, this time I’m going with 11 X 14 inches, and I’m printing a few images that have a fair chance of selling. One reason that I needed to do this is that all the prints of eagles that I’ve had printed in the past have sold, and I no longer have prints to show any one if they ask about eagles. I’m sure that these prints will turn out well, since I bit the bullet and had some blown up to 16 X 20 inches not too long ago. I’ll pick up the prints tomorrow on my way home from work.
I picked up the prints, and they did turn out well, as I expected. I can see one thing though, the eagle in flight that I shot with the 70-200 mm lens is sharper…
…than any of the photos that I’ve shot with the new 100-400 mm lens. It has to be the Image Stabilization that’ softening my bird in flight images, since the 70-200 mm lens doesn’t have it. I thought that the IS on the new lens was good enough, I suppose that in reality it is, but for the sharpest images, I think that I’ll have to turn the IS off.
Great, something else that I need to do to get the best images. I’ve already gotten to the point where I could use a few extra digits on my right hand to run all the dials, buttons, and switches on my camera already, now I need an extra digit or two on my left hand to set the lens correctly for the type of photo that I’m shooting. 😉
I did have time for a walk after work today, and I shot a few photos.
I saw a cardinal with a background of bright yellow leaves, and thought that it may make an interesting photo. However, the cardinal wouldn’t cooperate and pose for me, so this was the best I could do.
And, I did some more playing to learn the depth of field of the new lens, today I learned that f/7.1 wasn’t stopped down enough for this photo.
I also learned that I can’t always trust what the depth of field preview button shows me when I press it, I thought that I’d get the entire flower in focus and sharp. The depth of field preview button works much better when the lens is stopped down than it does when the lens is almost wide open. Another lesson learned.
Well, that wraps up another week so to speak.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
The hard work is just beginning
With the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens, I now have great gear for shooting birds and other wildlife, the best that I’ve ever had. I’ve also learned a lot, both how to use my gear, and also what makes a great photo. However, I broke one of the rules for making a great image when I’ve been shooting the bald eagles recently.
Sorry for so many eagle photos lately, I had forgotten that I had shot a few photos as the eagle from my last post was regurgitating a pellet of indigestible remnants of a previous meal, just as owls do.
I purposely lined the eagle up with the tree that you can see behind it, because I’m not a fan of the high-key look that you get when shooting a bird against a cloudy sky.
I could have positioned myself so that I had only the sky in the background for the eagle photos, but my personal preference is not to do that, even when I should. The kestrel photo isn’t bad, since they have some color to them. But, while the experts may say that the kestrel photo is better due to no distracting background, I prefer the eagle in front of the tree.
I’ve been attempting to pay more attention to the backgrounds in my images so that there are no distractions in my images to take away from the birds, but that’s close to impossible when shooting small songbirds.
Those species of birds live on the ground or vegetation so thick that it’s a once in a lifetime thing if you catch one out in the open completely.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been missing shots of the smaller birds lately because I’ve been moving around too much while attempting to get the best shot possible.
According to the experts, for an image to be a great one, the only thing in focus in the frame is the subject, and nothing else, with a pleasing background in one of the neutral colors. You’d think that with so many birds around to shoot…
…that I’d have little trouble making an image that would make the experts happy. That isn’t the case though, not for me anyway. When it does happen, it’s mostly luck.
I was working the edges of the farm fields near the Muskegon County wastewater facility, looking for sparrows, and hoping to find a lifer that was migrating through. I didn’t find any lifers, but I did find a vesper sparrow willing to pose.
However, I should have used a wider aperture to blur the background more. More on that in a second. As I was looking for sparrows on the ground, I looked up to see a great blue heron flying in my direction. Fortunately, I had the time to switch camera settings and I was able to shoot a series of photos of the heron as it passed by me.
Not the best lighting in the world, but not bad either.
There’s no distracting background in those, and the blue sky made a pleasing background for those two.
I said two things about the new 100-400 mm lens that I need to explain a little more. The first thing is that I said that there wasn’t any learning curve that came with it, that isn’t true. There is something that I need to work out, and that’s the second thing that I said about it, that it seems to produce a wider depth of field at the same distance and aperture as my other lenses.
So, on my walks around home, I have been working on that, and for reasons that I still don’t understand, the new lens does seem to have a wider depth of field than my other lenses. I shot this one the way that I would have in order to get all the yellow leaves in focus with one of my other long lenses, with the aperture stopped down quite a bit.
Then, I opened the aperture up all the way for this one, and lo and behold, all the leaves were still in focus, but the fence behind them was beginning to disappear.
To be a true test, I should have also shot the same scene with one of the other long lenses, however, I’ve shot thousands of photos with those lenses, and know where I have to set the aperture to get what I want in focus in focus. In this next photo, there’s no way that either the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) or the 300 mm lens would have gotten both the yellow and green leaf below it in focus at f/8, I’d have to have gone to f/11 or even f/16 to duplicate this one shot with the new lens.
So, I put what I’ve been learning with the new lens to use in this image.
I have no idea why the new lens has a wider depth of field than my other lenses, but it does, which is something that I need to work with more.
Before I continue on this line, I have to say that my goal isn’t to shoot only images that the experts would like, I also want to continue shooting the images that the general public will like, and those two things aren’t always the same. However, there’s no reason that I can’t use a few of the tips from the pros to make all my images better.
That means working even harder to get better angles, better backgrounds, and better results overall, no matter which type of photo that I’m shooting.
You may remember seeing the same cardinal in my last post also. That was a wider shot, because I liked the colors of the leaves near the cardinal. In this tighter shot, I could and should have opened the aperture wider, since I was no longer trying to get the leaves in focus. 😉
Leave it to me to buy a lens that somehow magically produces a wider depth of field just when I’m trying to go for the short depth of field look.
I continued to play a little more on Sunday, when there was no light to work with at all. I couldn’t come close to freezing the wings of this palm warbler as it dried itself off.
Luckily, it stuck around until I got a good shot.
The background is out of focus, but there’s lots of noise left too. It’s the same with these images of a peregrine falcon.
Here’s the slightly cropped version.
There was a second falcon at the wastewater facility today…
…and that must have put the one that’s been there for a while into a bad mood, because it repeatedly attacked the newcomer.
If only there had been some light…
…I had to shoot with the lens wide open, the ISO maxed out, and shutter speeds that were really too slow to freeze all the action, whether one of the falcons was perched, or if they were both airborne.
But, that didn’t stop me from trying to luck out…
…I kept on shooting, trying to keep a focus lock on the less aggressive falcon…
…until the less aggressive falcon landed again…
…and I was able to shoot this one.
Those photos aren’t very good, but let me tell you, keeping one of them in focus all the time as fast as they are and as little light as there was is not easy. And, as bad as those images are, I can tell that the newcomer isn’t banded, which means it must have come from a nest not watched by any of the Federal or State Agencies in charge of such things, in other words, a wild nest so to speak. All the nesting boxes set-up for the falcons to use, or known nests are watched, and all the chicks that hatch are banded, the attacker wears a blue band with the number “40” on it. If I knew where to submit that information to, I may hear back about where that falcon was hatched and raised. But, the really cool thing is seeing an unbanned bird, which means that there’s more falcon reproduction than just in the controlled nests.
Besides, how many people get to see one peregrine falcon, let alone two of them going at it? Of course with my luck, it was when there was no light to work with, the story of my life. 😉
Anyway, with it being a rainy, foggy day, none of my images came out well at all. Here’s a pair of juvenile dunlin that I found.
A non-breeding horned grebe.
And, when I saw a shorebird with a huge bill, I had to shoot a few photos of it.
I did finally get the dowitcher alone, but all the way across the pond, so these photos aren’t very good either.
How would you like that bill hanging from your face?
The only other birds that I shot were this American pipit…
…and this great blue heron, which I shot at f/5.6, which is wide open with the new 100-400 mm lens set to 400 mm.
That image wasn’t cropped, that’s my buddy, the young great blue heron that poses for me so I can test things out. I can see that the days of having to shoot with the aperture stopped down to at least f/7.1, or better yet, f/8, to get a sharp image are gone with the new lens.
I’m already over my limit for photos, so I’ll save the foggy landscapes for the next post.
But, before I sign off, I have to apologize to all the regular readers of my blog. Some how, and I haven’t figured it out yet, WordPress turned off all the notifications that I get when people post their blogs, or comment to mine. I could see the comments to mine, so I didn’t need the notifications, but after a week, I thought that it was strange that every one else had decided to take a break from blogging, all at the same time. So, I’ve missed a lot of people’s posts, I’ll try to get caught up this week.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I’m still learning
Although I feared that there would be a learning curve when it came to using the new 100-400 mm lens, that didn’t happen. By the end of the first day that I used it, I had figured out how to set the various switches on the lens to produce the results that I desired. A lot of that probably has to do with what I had already learned using the Beast ( Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the 300 mm L series lens. The only real difference in the new lens is that it has a third mode of Image Stabilization which I had never used before.
I had read that this new mode was better for birds in flight, and that has proven to be the case as the hawk in flight photos from the last post show. Other than that, it’s just like all my other Canon lenses only better, the new lens has been everything that I had hoped for and more, right out of the box.
Mounted to the 7D Mk II, it’s an awesome combination that makes getting good photos almost automatic.
Well, not really automatic, it’s up to me to position myself in the right place at the right time, make sure that the camera and lens settings are correct for the type of photo that I’ll be shooting, along with all the other little things that go into making a good image.
Take the recent photo of the red-winged blackbirds in flight.
That was almost all luck, a grab shot if you will. I heard the blackbirds, turned, saw them, and shot as quickly as I could because there were obstructions on both sides of that view. After that shot, I thought that I’d be smart and get into a better position where the obstructions wouldn’t be a problem. That didn’t work well, I was too close to the blackbirds so I could only get a couple of them in the frame at one time, I was shooting their undersides, with no color from their wing patches, and the cornfield that they were flying over was tall enough to block my best view. That’s just one example, I still have a lot left to learn.
One thing that I’m learning is to wait until the flock of birds turn, so that they are banking for the turn as many of the blackbirds are in the photo above. Otherwise, I end up with boring photos of the birds all in profile, like this.
The only reason that I posted that one is because the little ruddy ducks that have to run to build up enough speed to take flight seem to be saying to the larger birds “Hey, wait for us”.
I’m also learning what works best as a background for flocks of birds in flight, and what the distance between the flock and the background works the best. All of this goes back to learning where to position myself to get the best images that I can.
Speaking of getting the best images that I can, the new 100-400 mm lens has changed my thinking somewhat. That, and seeing the photos that are posted to the North American Nature Photographers Association’s Facebook page. My very best images compare favorably to almost all of the photos that I see there, unless the photographer was using one of the very high-resolution cameras such as a Nikon D810, the Canon 5DS R, or the top of the line Sony camera bodies. That is, at least on the technical side of the equation, as I say, I still have a lot to learn as far as technique.
Since I had the large 16 X 20 inch prints made, I know that either the 7D Mk II or my older 60D bodies will produce great prints that size. I can only imagine how much better that those prints would be if I had the same quality of lens as the new lens is.
Also, I’ve made it no secret that I’d like to have a full frame camera body for better low light performance.
Unfortunately, everything in photography is a trade-off in one way or another. As much as the manufacturers have improved digital cameras, there’s still no perfect camera for all situations made at this point in time. Something else that needs to be added to the equation is the fact that wildlife is most active in low-light situations most of the time, which is why I was looking for better low-light performance from a camera, and considering a full frame camera.
So, I took stock of what I had, and how well it performs. With the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens, I have about the best set-up out there for birds in flight and other action photography. The 60D camera also works well, but with one exception, it won’t auto-focus with my longer lenses when I add either of the tele-converters. Otherwise, I think that I could do exactly what I would like to do already, have one set-up ready at all times for action shots, and the other set-up for the very best portrait shots.
There have been too many times when I missed a shot because I was either changing camera settings, or swapping lenses or tele-converters to switch between action and portrait photos, because I have to use the 7D to have auto-focus available. Also, as good as the 60D is, it can’t come close to matching how fast or accurate the auto-focusing of the 7D is. And, the 60D can’t auto-focus at all when I use a tele-converter behind a long lens.
One more thing to add to the equation, the cost of the high-quality, extremely wide lenses required to shoot landscape photos on a crop sensor body as my 7D and 60D are. That’s another point in favor of a full frame sensor camera.
Maybe my math skills are a bit rusty, but I’ll tell you, solving an equation with so many variables is difficult, it makes my head hurt as Mr. Tootlepedal would say. It’s even more difficult when how much weight I put on to each section of the equation changes based on the photos that I have shot recently. What I do remember from back in the dark ages when I went to school, when confronted with a complex equation, you begin by simplifying it.
When looking at what I’d like to do in its simplest terms, what this all boils down to is do I want to shoot the very best images possible in good light…
…and live with the level of image that I currently can produce in bad light.
Or, do I want to live with what I get in good light…
…at the expense of shooting slightly better images in poor light.
Since I shoot Canon gear, there are really only two options for me as far as full frame cameras, the new 5D Mk IV and the 5DS R, that will make any improvements in my images. The 5D Mk IV offers slightly better low-light/high ISO performance, but no improvement over the 7D in resolution or in the details or resolution of a subject that it can record.
The 5DS R has the about the same low-light/ high ISO performance as my 7D does, but with the low pass filter disabled, it is stunning in the amount of resolution and details that it records with its 50 MP sensor.
So, at least for right now, I’m planning on purchasing a 5DS R in a year or two. If Canon were to announce an upgraded 7D with the low pass filter effect turned off, all bets would be off. 😉
That’s because I don’t shoot only birds, I do landscapes…
…and macro photography as well.
The 5DS R will auto-focus to an aperture of f/8, the same as my 7D does. So I can use my long lens with a tele-converter for bird and wildlife portrait shots. With its amazing resolution, it will really improve my landscapes and macro photos as well, more bang for my buck.
I’ll tell you, as good as my photos are becoming, those shot with the 5DS R just blow mine away from what I’ve seen. There are a few people posting photos to the North American Nature Photography Association’s Facebook page using the same 100-400 mm lens that I have, along with the 1.4 X tele-converter, and their images have to be seen to be believed. I should also add that as good as the new 100-400 mm lens is, I want to shoot every species of bird and everything else that I’ve already photographed all over again. It’s that much better than what I’ve been using, as you can see from the photos of the coot and ruddy duck in this post.
I have a series of photos that show why I’d like to have two birding set-ups, one for portraits, one for action. I found one of the bald eagles perched in its usual spot at the wastewater facility, and I started out using just the 100-400 mm lens set at 400 mm.
I didn’t crop that at all, although I could have, to let you think that I was closer than I really was. When I saw that the eagle was in no hurry to move, I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the 100-400 mm lens for this one.
Then, I went one step farther, swapping out that extender for the 2 X tele-converter, to get to 800 mm.
You can see how much larger the eagle became as I went up in focal length, as none of those images were cropped at all.
Actually, the story is longer than that, when I first started shooting the eagle, the light wasn’t that good. As the light improved, I kept swapping tele-converters back and forth to get better images. If the eagle looked as if it would take off, I’d remove the tele-converter so that I’d be able to track the eagle if it did fly away. Every time that I swap out extenders, there’s the chance that I’ll get dust on the camera’s sensor, which I’ve already had to clean twice, and is due for another cleaning from the spots that I have to remove from my images.
The last two are actually from two weeks ago, and you can see that the light wasn’t as good then, which is why I held off posting them. This week, I sat there watching the eagle for better than half an hour, and it never did move on, so I did instead.
I tried the same thing with a peregrine falcon…
…but it flew off as I was swapping out extenders every time I got close to it…
…so I never did capture it taking off or in flight.
Before I forget, it isn’t just a matter of swapping tele-converters, it also involves changing the camera settings as well. I can shoot at slower shutter speeds and a lower ISO setting when the bird is perched than I can while it’s in flight. It takes a minute or two to make the swap of extenders and camera settings, and while the eagle gave me plenty of time to do that, the falcon didn’t, and neither did this pie-billed grebe. However, the grebe didn’t fly away, they have a much stealthier way of disappearing.
The grebes can make themselves sink into the water by controlling how much water their feathers hold, to put it in simple terms. Here, the grebe is going…
It only takes them a second or two to complete disappear from sight, and I’m happy to have finally captured that entire sequence. I just checked the metadata for those images, and it took the grebe just over a second to disappear.
Anyway, for the time being, I’m shooting most of my landscapes with the 60D and the EF S 15-85 mm lens, which does quite well.
However, to get the best out of that set-up, I have to shoot three bracketed shots and blend them in Photomatix software to get the results that I do. I can take the 7D and new lens and get images just about as good without using extra software.
With no clouds, I doubted if the sunrise would produce a good image, I was wrong, very wrong!
With the golden glow of the sunrise, and a little bit of fog, the sunrise produced two good images.
I suppose you could say that it produced three good images, if you like this one of geese and mallards in flight against the early morning glow.
Getting back to the photo gear, after seeing how much better the 100-400 mm lens is than my other long lenses are, I have decided that I should upgrade my wide lenses before I purchase a better camera, as that will improve my photos the most. I can use the better lenses on my current cameras for the time being. Since I know that I’ll eventually purchase a full frame camera, I’ve chosen lenses that will work best on it, but will also be an improvement over the lenses that I currently own. The good thing is that what I have now performs pretty good, so I’m in no hurry to rush out and make the purchases soon, I’ll upgrade as my bank account allows.
I got a chance to play with the new lens as a macro lens a little more on Monday, I shot this dragonfly at 400 mm and as close as I could get the lens to focus, then cropped the image a little.
Then it dawned on me, I had the 1.4 X extender with me, so I went back and tried that set-up. By then, the dragonfly had turned around though, so I didn’t get the best angle for this one.
But, I did learn that the set-up performed well, and that the auto-focus doesn’t slow down as much as when I use the extender with the 300 mm lens.
The fact that it auto-focuses faster is a good thing, because I swear that the birds know that the new lens is faster than what I used to use. The 100-400 mm lens typically snaps into a focus lock very quickly, but it wasn’t quick enough for many of the small birds that I chased this weekend. I have several empty branch photos to prove that. I couldn’t believe how quickly the birds were reacting, I could get the focus, but before the shutter fired, the birds were already gone. I did mange to find a few slower birds though.
Actually, war’s going on with the birds is that I’m trying to get better images, therefore I’m taking more time to get an unobstructed view of them in the best light possible. It’s only then that I raise the camera to my eye, and by that time, the birds are ready to move on anyway, my having a clear view of them prompts them to move even sooner. That means that I’ll have to work a little harder, and a lot smarter to catch them.
It probably doesn’t help that I’m trying to photograph most of the smaller birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve where Brian Johnson bands birds. Most of the birds that I see there have one of his bands on its leg, which means that Brian has handled them at least once. While he’s very gentle with them, it’s no fun for them to be caught in a net, then have a human carry them to his workspace where he pokes and prods the birds to check their condition. Then to top it off, he clamps a metal band around your leg. that would make me leery of humans too.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
The new 100-400 mm lens post 3
I’m loving the new 100-400 mm lens, maybe too much. I’ve already used it to capture the peregrine falcon hopping on the ground, trying to pounce on something that I couldn’t see. Now, I’ve used it to capture a series of photos showing a red-tailed hawk eating a snake.
But before I go on, I see that one of my photos has been published by the statewide that consortium that includes the local Grand Rapids press and other newspapers around the State of Michigan.
I have to say that it’s a great ego boost to see one of my photos used in such a way!
I’ve also told you that I’ve been following the North American Nature Photography Association Facebook page as a way to judge my photos against the photos of others, and with all modesty, I have to say that I’ve been improving the quality of my images, but that I still have a way to go to match the very best that I see.
Anyway, I spotted the hawk perched on the fence as you can see in the photos above, and I assumed that the hawk would fly away as soon as it spotted me, so I was setting the camera to shoot birds in flight when the hawk jumped off from the fence and to the ground. Since I was busy setting the camera, I missed that. The hawk soon emerged back out of the tall grass with the poor snake.
I should have remembered what this look meant, “Are you ready there Mr. Photographer?”.
But, it’s been a while since I’ve seen that look, so I was a bit slow on the shutter.
Once the hawk had finished off the snake, I moved closer to shoot a few portrait shots.