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

Posts tagged “Nature

More of the same

As always, I’m continuing to rethink how I go about shooting the photos that I do. I purchased a portable hide thinking that it would be a great way to get even closer to birds and other wildlife, but I haven’t used it yet. That’s because I have been able to get as close as I wanted to the subjects that I’ve seen since I purchased the hide for the most part…

Least sandpiper

…or, there didn’t seem to be any use in setting it up, as there was nothing in the area to photograph to begin with.

I’ve considered setting up the hide near the bird feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve…

Red squirrel raiding a bird feeder

 

Eastern chipmunk eating food from the feeder that the squirrel dropped

…but even there, I had to get down on my knees to get under a branch that was otherwise in the way to shoot this series of a chickadee eating a kernel of corn it had plucked from the feeder.

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

I take a great deal of pride in the fact that 99.9% of the photos that have appeared here in my blog were shot totally in the wild, not at a rehab facility or zoo, nor at a feeding station of any kind. When I do post such photos, as these last few, I tell every one that they were shot at or near a feeder. Shooting such photos is a pleasant way to spend a slow day when I’m not seeing anything in the wild, and they also show me what’s possible with the equipment that I have. However, I’m usually able to do as well or better in the wild, given enough time.

Chipping sparrow

That was shot on the day that I went to Ionia, Michigan, to photograph the historic buildings there.

I will say this about shooting near the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, most of the time, I get cleaner backgrounds as I can pick and choose when I shoot, whereas when I’m shooting birds in the wild, my photos are more likely to be like the one of the chipping sparrow, with a cluttered foreground and background. The experts want a clean foreground and background, however, in the photo of the sparrow, you can see the type of seeds that it was eating. There’s something to be said for both types of photos. In the clean photos, all of some one’s focus is on the bird itself, while in the cluttered photos, people can gain insight as to the habitat that the bird lives in, and as in the case with the sparrow, what it prefers to eat.

Sometimes, as in this recent image…

Cedar waxwing

…I luck out and get the best of both worlds. The leaves frame the waxwing nicely, without being too busy, that may be as close to the perfect image as I have shot up until this point.

I should break down and set-up the portable hide one of these days just to see how well it works, and how I can best employ it, especially to shoot videos. I would like to shoot more videos, as they show the behavior of birds and other wildlife better than still photos in some ways, in other ways, still photos are better, but I’d like to be able to choose the best method depending on the situation at the time.

The still photos of the swallows from the last post are okay, but a video of that many swallows in flight, showing how they avoid running into each other, and hearing them chattering away to one another, would have been a great companion to the still photos. Maybe I’ll get around to doing that this coming weekend.

However, I still have the new to me 16-35 mm lens to play with more, learning how to make use of it in the best ways, and learning to use the 7D camera for landscapes, rather than the 60D camera that I have still being using for them. That applies to macros as well, I have to use the 7D more often, as it renders superior images than the 60D does. Not by much, but there’s enough of a difference that I can see it well enough as I view the images full screen on my computer, and definitely in any prints that I make.

I think that another weekend of using the new 16-35 mm lens will confirm what I’ve been thinking of doing as far as other new wide-angle lenses for the crop sensor 7D camera. I was planning on purchasing a full frame camera, but those plans have been changed by the poor sensor in the new Canon 6D Mk II, and by the detail that I can see in the prints that I’ve made of images shot with the 7D. Plus, I can make images very close to what people who use the very high-resolution camera can make, if I shoot more panoramas using a very sharp lens. I don’t want to get that far into the technical details involving pixel density or the nodal point of a lens, but it’s pixel density that determines the resolution in the final print, and the pixel density of the 7D comes very close to matching that of the high-resolution full frame cameras.

So, if I were to shoot two images of a scene while zoomed in slightly, then stitch the two images together to form a panorama to show the entire scene in one image, I would come very close to duplicating a single image shot with a full frame camera as far as resolution and details. But, I would have to determine the nodal point of the lens as it is set-up on my tripod to create the best panoramas.

To that end, I’ve reconsidered purchasing Canon’s 24-105 mm lens, as the new version isn’t that much sharper than the old version, and besides, I wanted that focal length for a full frame camera, not the crop sensor 7D. Instead, I’m thinking of saving $200 by purchasing the sharper Canon 24-70 mm lens, knowing that I may well need to carry my 70-200 mm lens at times for landscapes. In a pinch, I could use the 70-200 mm lens as a wildlife lens by using the tele-converters that I already own behind it to make it either a 280 mm lens at its longest, or a 400 mm lens, depending on the extender that I use. It would depend on the situation, if my plan was to shoot wildlife with the possibilities of a landscape photo, then I’d carry the 100-400 mm lens, and skip the focal lengths between 70 mm and 100 mm as it wouldn’t be that big of a deal anyway.

But, if I’m out to shoot landscapes with the possibilities of a wildlife or bird photos, and there almost always is that possibility, I could make do with the 70-200 mm lens and extenders. I used the 70-200 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter to get my best ever image of a bald eagle in flight, so I wouldn’t be giving up much by using that lens.

Shifting gears, I’m learning that an image as seen on my computer doesn’t always make a great print when I print the image to a large size. That’s okay, I sort of expected that from the research that I had done before purchasing the printer. That’s especially true of prints that I sell, I’ve had to tweak every image at least a little after making the first print to get a great print that the potential customer is happy with.

Part of that is because I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to editing my images for my blog, between the small size at which they appear here and the reduced resolution, I don’t have to spend as much time making an image perfect if it’s only going to appear here. When printing images as large as I can, I have to take the time to make sure that every small detail is as good as I can get it, like tweaking the white balance slightly to remove a slight blue color cast in the print, or toning down a slightly over-exposed background. To that end, I’ve been working on refining my skills in Lightroom to make the best possible prints that I can. It seems to be working, as I sold a few more prints this week, and a neighbor has asked me to shoot the photos for her daughter’s senior pictures next year, after she purchased one of the prints that I’ve made.

In one of the test landscape images that I shot last weekend, a turkey vulture was soaring overhead at the time, and I thought that it would make a nice addition to the photo. As seen on my computer, the turkey vulture isn’t that big of a deal, but when I printed the image, the vulture stood out like a sore thumb, an annoying distraction which I could easily remove in Lightroom if the basic image was any good to begin with. Since it was just a test of the new lens, it’s no big deal, but I’ll keep that print to remind myself that I have to work harder to make better prints, and that includes analyzing the scene better before I shoot the image.

I realized yesterday that I continue to discuss photography so much here in my blog is because I’m still looking for answers as to how to go about getting the best images that I can, within the time constraints of still working for a living. This past summer, my work schedule made it difficult for me to be out before sunrise, or after sunset, which is why I haven’t been shooting many landscapes this year. Southern Michigan, where I live, isn’t that conducive to mid-day landscape photos.

I also worry that if I set-up the portable hide, I’ll end up wasting the time that I sit in it unless I do so somewhere that there are tons of birds around, or, unless I were to bait wildlife to assure that there would be something for me to photograph as I sat in the hide.

So, I continue to go to the same places and do the same things whenever I do have the chance to get outside and shoot photos, even though I know I could do better if I were to change things up in some ways. The alternatives would bring with them the risk that I would end up without any photos at all, which I suppose wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Take yesterday, Saturday, for example. I arrived at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve well after sunrise, because I worked very late on Friday due to sitting in a broken down truck for three hours waiting for it to be repaired. But, at least I was able to get my best ever photos of a crow.

American crow

I used other cars in the parking lot to sneak up on the crow as it looked for any bits of food people had thrown out in the parking lot, but I think that it was also eating a few ants from time to time when it found them.

American crow

Of course, it could have been other insects that the crow was eating, as they aren’t fussy about what they eat.

A short time later, I came upon a family of mute swans…

Mute swan family

…I actually shot these close-ups first…

Juvenile mute swan

…as the swans were feeding near the bank I was standing on.

Mute swan

The adult shook its head, resulting in this image.

Silly swan

For the past few years, I’ve been ignoring the mute swans most of the time, because they’re an introduced species here, and because I used to go overboard posting photos of them right after I took up blogging. Now, my thoughts are what difference does it make, if I can shoot good photos of them, then I should go ahead and photograph them. I probably could have stood there for quite a while, shooting even better images of the swans, but I also look for variety of species to photograph.

I saved three other photos from my time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but I’m only going to post two of them. The third was a test of the new lens, and while the image was good for that purpose, that doesn’t mean that I have to post it here. Instead, I’ll go back a week or two to this one instead.

Another almost winner

If I could have reached the vegetation surrounding the yellow arrowhead leaf and removed it all other than that one leaf, that would have been a great image. But, with the other leaves and their reflections, the image is the pits. The test shot that I’m not posting is similar to that one, just too darn busy because I couldn’t get to the exact position that I needed to be in without getting into the water and muck there.

My last two images from the MLNP on Saturday…

Foam, duckweed, and other floating bits

 

Pokeweed berries

I stopped off at the wastewater facility on my way home for these.

Great blue heron

The next ones aren’t great, other than they show the feathers on the heron’s wings quite well.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

I would prefer to photograph birds coming towards me, but I don’t know how to get this view of a bird’s wing if they are coming at me. It’s also a rare thing to be too close to a great blue heron to get its entire wingspan in the photo.

Great blue heron in flight

I also caught one of the juvenile pie-billed grebes in better light than the previous image of I that I recently posted…

Pie-billed grebe

…but it has lost most of the colors in its face that it had when it was younger, however, it was also actively feeding on the surface of the water, and I did catch that.

Pie-billed grebe

 

Pie-billed grebe

It’s now Sunday afternoon, I had thought about going up north, but it wouldn’t have been worthwhile, as by the time that I had gotten to better scenery, it would have been mid-morning already. That’s the same problem that I have every week. If I’m going to travel any farther away from home than Muskegon, then it would have to be for an overnight trip, not just one day.  So, I did the same thing that I always do, I went to Muskegon.

That wasn’t all bad, as I spotted an eagle soon after I arrived.

Bald eagle

Along with another photographer nearby, I sat and waited, and waited, until the eagle decided that it was time to move on. When it did, it didn’t do any of the pre-flight things that a an eagle typically does before take off, it jumped up as if it had been startled by something, even though I didn’t see or hear anything that would cause the eagle to act as it did.

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle taking off

Early morning light is very good for most subjects, but I don’t like the yellow color cast that the light imparted on the eagle’s head, so I adjusted the white balance sightly for this next one, to remove a little of the yellow from the eagle’s white feathers.

Bald eagle taking off

 

Those aren’t out of order, that’s the way that the eagle took off. There were a few more images in the first burst that I fired off, but from the angle between myself and the eagle, the branch in the background that the eagle had been perched on bisected the eagle almost perfectly. While it was behind the eagle, the branch being there still makes those images less than what they could have been if the eagle had chosen a slightly different flight path as it dove to gain speed. I paused shooting for a second or two, so that I wouldn’t fill the camera’s buffer, then fired another burst, with this one being the best of them.

Bald eagle in flight

It’s a good thing that I had time earlier to practice on a gull.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I wasn’t going to put these next ones in this post, but I may as well. I saw a couple of mute swans preening…

Mute swan preening

…so I shot a few photos to show how flexible their necks are…

Mute swan preening

…and how they seem to be able to control their feathers as they preen…

Mute swan preening

…while also trying to get their eye showing while they were preening. But, that wasn’t possible with this pose that the one struck.

Mute swan preening

What I was really hoping for was some wing flapping action, but the one swan was content to do a single wing stretch now and then…

Mute swan stretching its wing

…while the other one turned sideways to me, so this is what I ended up with.

Mute swan drying its wings

 

Mute swan drying its wings

I still haven’t been able to find an answer to my dilemma of how to shoot the things that I’d like to be able to shoot while still holding down a job, but there’s probably no good answer to that, at least not one that I love.

It doesn’t help matters that it was a very hot, humid, and hazy weekend for the end of summer, beginning of fall. I cut the day short on Sunday, and when I arrived home around noon, it was already 81 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C), and the temperature has continued to climb since then. Too hot for me!

The things that I’ve been trying to do to change things around a bit have been working as far as better images, but at the cost of fewer photos of fewer species of birds. It involves sitting around and waiting while watching a bird or birds for the most part, like waiting for the eagle to fly, or waiting for the swans to dry their wings. I like the last photo of the swan drying its wings, but it would have been even better if the swan had turned to face me, or even if it had turned away from me, so that I had been able to get it with its wings fully stretched out.

That’s was what I was waiting for, so I was using the 400 mm prime lens with the camera set to stop motion, as in bird in flight photos. I could have gotten better images of the swans preening if I had been using an extender behind the lens for closer views of the swans as they preened. If I had done that, and then if the swans had given me the full wing display, I wouldn’t have been able to get their entire wingspan in the frame. So, for the most part, the time that I spent with the swans was somewhat wasted, as I didn’t get the image that I really wanted. As I’ve said before, the birds don’t notify me when they are going to do something that will result in a great image, so I don’t have time to switch camera settings or lenses most of the time.

At least with the eagle, I was sitting there holding the camera on it, just waiting for it to take flight. So even though it surprised me when it did take off, all I had to do was press the shutter button. While I would have liked to have been closer, I got some decent images of the eagle taking off, so that wasn’t wasted time. If there hadn’t been the other photographer there, I would have tried setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it for even better images of the eagle taking off. I see and talk to the other photographer often, and just the week before, he told me about an incident where he was waiting for a bird to fly, when a birder walked right in front of him to ask him if he had seen any good shorebirds. Of course, that’s when the bird that the photographer was waiting on took off, so he missed the photos that he had been waiting for. He was not a happy camper that day! That’s also why I wasn’t willing to risk setting up the tripod, I didn’t want to change the eagle’s behavior in any way that would spoil the other photographer’s chances.

And so it goes, there seems to be something in my way every time I think about doing things exactly as I should. Then, I come home and whine about it, and not having the time to do things as I would like to be able to do them. Then, I debate with myself as to whether I’m spending too much time trying to get the best images possible, or if my time would be better spent shooting a wider variety of birds as I used to. Also, I debate with myself whether I’m trying too hard for images of subjects that I think may sell, or if I should forget about selling photos while I’m out in the field, and only think about the things that I see in nature that may be interesting to others, even if a photo of that subject would never sell. That takes me back to the issue of not having enough time to do both. So, around and round I go.

There are plenty of other things dealing with photography that I constantly question myself about each and every time that I’m out with my camera, but I’ve babbled on long enough already.

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

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I always think of it later (almost)

Just after I had published the last post, the thought occurred to me that for some reason, I had to learn how to take technically good photos before I could shoot many of the more artistic photos from the last post, even if the artistic photos aren’t as good technically as most of my bird portraits are. I’m talking about the silhouettes of the birds in flight mostly, but that applies to the cornfield and a few others as well. When I first began shooting birds in flight, most of the time the birds were just silhouettes, but the photos that resulted weren’t very pleasing to the eye. Heck, many of my early photos of perched birds were little more than silhouettes and not very good either. But, over time, I learned how to overcome bad lighting most of the time, and there are even times when I take advantage of bad lighting to produce pleasing results.

That goes along with something else that I do more often these days, I visualize how the finished image will appear even before I press the shutter release. Not in the same way that I used to think that every time I pressed the shutter button, a good photo would result, but I’m learning how to visualize what the camera actually sees when I shoot an image these days. That visualization includes any editing that I’ll do to the image later in Lightroom.

That could be the subject of an entire post, learning how to shoot the original image so that the final result when edited later ends up looking the way that I wanted it to look as I was surveying the scene before shooting it. But, I’ll leave that to those who are experts in Lightroom, even though those aspects of photography and editing images are seldom addressed from what I can tell.

There are differences between what our eyes can see, and what a camera is able to record, either on film, or as ones and zeros in the world of digital photography. Our eyes adjust to varying light so quickly without our thinking about it, that we think that our eyes have a much higher dynamic range for light than we really do. It’s the same for focusing, our eyes adjust so quickly that everything we look at seems to be in focus at once. Because we can move our eyes around to take in the entire scene, we see things differently than a camera.

That’s not how a camera looks at all the things in a scene. It sees everything at once, and it can only be adjusted for the entire scene overall, not bits and pieces of the scene as we see it. It’s taken me way too long to teach myself what the camera is going to produce as I survey a scene before pressing the shutter button. For too long, I was attempting to make the camera see what I saw, and that doesn’t work, for the reasons stated above. But, I thought that if I got the camera settings just right, I could force the camera to do what it is really incapable of doing. Yes, I knew that there were limits, but I’ve always been one to push the limits.

In a way, pushing the limits was a good thing, as I now know just what the limits are, and how to get a good image as I approach those limits. That’s how I got the silhouettes of the heron and cranes from the last post to come out as well as they did. In the past, the birds would have been black blobs against a blown out background, but in the photos from the last post, I was able to get enough of the bird’s color so that you can identify the bird, yet it is still silhouetted against the sky or water, depending on which image we are talking about.

Now then, back to visualizing what the finished image will look like before shooting something. That may be the most important thing about photography that I’ve learned to do. Not that I’m a great photographer yet, but I have learned from watching a few videos about Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and other truly great photographers that they didn’t shoot to create a perfect negative in the first place. They shot what they did, how they did, knowing what they would do during both the development of the negative, and the printing process to achieve the final result that they desired. I don’t know how the others did it, but I learned that Ansel Adams kept charts stored with the negatives he shot showing how much dodging and burning that he had to do to various areas of a print as he made it so that future prints would be a reproduction of his original print when some one ordered one of his prints.

That’s really the key to getting better photos, at least it has been for me, being able to look at a subject or scene, and quickly know how to shoot it so that the finished image will look the way that I intended it to look when I shot it.

There’s one caveat to this though, everything that I’ve said about my being able to visualize what the finished image will look like before I press the shutter applies to images shot with my 100 mm macro or longer lenses. I still struggle when I use wide-angle lenses. I hope that will change soon, as I’ve taken delivery of the 16-35 mm lens that I ordered and mentioned in the last post.

I’ve only had a few minutes to play with it so far, but the results are very promising. I shot the apartment building that I live in to test how much distortion the lens has, and the lens is very good in that respect. Buildings are good for testing distortion because they have straight vertical and horizontal lines that can be used to see any distortion. Then, by loading the image in Lightroom, and turning on and off the lens correction profile, I could see that the building’s lines were close to being straight, even without the lens correction applied. The lens does show a little vignetting, that is darkening of the image towards the edges when compared to the center of the image, but I’d have never noticed it if Lightroom hadn’t fixed it when I applied the lens correction.

It’s too soon to tell about how sharp the lens will be once I get used to using it, but it appears to be sharper than the 15-85 mm lens that I have been using.

Petunia

I’m going by the hairs on the petunia bud and leaves to judge sharpness, as I put the focus point on the bud.

Two things about the lens really impress me so far, the overall clarity of the images that I shot, and the color reproduction. The 16-35 mm lens reproduces colors much more vividly than any of my other lenses, it may be better than my 100 mm macro lens in that respect.

Water drops on a leaf

I know, no one else would get excited about seeing green grass or a brown leaf, but those are what struck me as I viewed the image for the first time. Even if the 16-35 mm lens isn’t the sharpest lens that I have, and as I said, it’s too early to judge that yet, great color reproduction and clarity are excellent attributes for a lens meant to be used for landscapes most of the time. Since the lens has minimal distortion, it will be easier to stitch two images together to create a panorama for those scenes when 16 mm isn’t wide enough to capture the entire scene in one image.

Other good points about the new lens, it’s lighter than my old one, and both the zoom action and focusing are all internal. The lens stays the same length all the time, meaning it’s less likely to suck dust or moisture into itself as I zoom in or out, and being a L series lens, it’s weather sealed also.

So, with this new lens, it’s time for me to go out and shoot a few more landscapes than I have been lately, using the tripod and setting everything correctly for the very best image quality possible in order to fully judge what the lens can do. The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend doesn’t bode well for great landscape images though, as the weather is looking too good for that. Bright blue skies with hardly a cloud in the sky is what’s forecast, but for testing the new lens and for practicing seeing through a wide-angle lens, I’ll have to make do.

Switching gears, I have many photos leftover from earlier this summer that aren’t great, but were too good to delete, so I’m going to use a couple of them here so that I can clear room for newer images. The first is a juvenile pie-billed grebe.

Juvenile pie-billed grebe

As you can see, the juveniles show more color than adults of that species do. I was hoping to catch the juvenile on a day with better light so that the color would show up better, but that didn’t happen.

It’s the same story for these eared grebes, the only time that I was able to get close to them was on a dark, dreary day.

Eared grebes

I also have a series of bad images of sandhill cranes in flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I never expected the cranes to take flight coming in my direction, I expected them to go the other way.

Sandhill cranes in flight

That was shot as I was trying to decide which bird(s) to track, it would have been a good shot if I hadn’t cut off their wings.

Sandhill cranes in flight

As they got closer, I couldn’t keep two birds within the frame any longer.

This last one was ruined by a number of things. The crane was so close that I didn’t have enough depth of field to get it all in sharp focus. When even slow birds are that close, one needs to go to an even faster shutter speed to freeze the motion, which I didn’t do. And, I’m sure that I was moving the camera too much for a sharp image. Not only do you have to track their forward motion, but they “bounce” up and down as they flap their wings, and I have to move the camera up and down along with tracking the bird’s path.

Sandhill crane in flight

The weather forecast for this past weekend was spot on for a change, unfortunately in a way, that was a bad thing. I wanted to try out the new wide-angle lens, and I did, but the resulting images are pretty boring for the most part. Here’s a couple of them that I shot.

Foggy sunrise I

The new lens does show a great deal of promise, despite to poor subjects of these photos.

Foggy sunrise II

I’m loving the sharpness of this lens, but even more so, the clarity and color that show in the images that I’ve shot with it so far.

Field of flowers

However, I’m still learning to use the 7D Mk II as a landscape camera. I’ve used the 60D so much that it’s become automatic for me to get it set-up to shoot landscapes, not so with the 7D. I still have to fumble around with the controls, and remember in what ways it performs differently than the 60D as I set it up to shoot landscapes. I’m sure that a few more outings using the 7D, and I’ll get used to setting it up correctly the first time. Once I’m more familiar with setting the 7D up for landscapes, then I’ll be able to put more thought into the exact composition for landscapes that I want rather than concentrating on camera settings. However, the main thing is that the 16-35 mm f/4 lens is a winner, and a noticeable improvement over the EF S 15-85 mm lens that I’ve been using for most of my landscapes the past few years.

The thought just occurred to me, I could see that there are times when the 15-85 mm lens may be a good choice, when I want a more impressionistic image, versus an extremely sharp image. Great, a reason to carry another lens with me, just what I don’t need. On second thought, if the 16-35 mm lens is too sharp for what I’m trying for in an image, I could always soften the image in Lightroom later.

Okay, switching gears, nature isn’t always pretty. Just after I had talked with another photographer on Sunday morning, I noticed a small raptor within a flock of smaller birds. It took me a few moments to stop my vehicle, roll down the passenger side window, grab my camera, and shoot this, just after the raptor had made a kill.

Sharp-shinned hawk? with a swallow

I can’t make a positive identification of either bird, but the poor victim of the raptor is definitely a swallow of some type, I can tell that from its forked tail. Judging from the size of the raptor, I’d say that it was a sharp-shinned hawk, although it could be a merlin. I was able to fire a burst of three photos before the raptor landed with its breakfast. In the other two, you could see that the raptor had a very long tail, one of the identifying features of a sharpie. It’s hard to believe that there’s a raptor agile enough to catch a flying swallow.

I should also add, that the other swallows in the flock were harassing the raptor at first, but gave up when they saw that it was of no use.

Of course I felt bad for the swallow, but it’s the way of nature, and one way to keep a balance between various species in nature. In my last post, I had a photo showing a “wall” of insects, here’s what it looks like when the swallows get hungry.

Swallow feeding frenzy

That was shot with the 400 mm lens, and only shows a small portion of the flock of swallows. I switched to the 70-200 mm lens for this shot.

Swallow feeding frenzy

I tried to set-up to shoot a video several times, but each time that I did, the swallows all pulled up and dispersed, there must have been another predator nearby. That, and I couldn’t get the camera to focus at a point where it would show the entire flock as well as I wanted. But, it was a sight to see, with thousands of swallows all feeding together in such a small area.

By the way, here’s the possible predator that may have been making the swallows nervous.

Merlin trying to land in a bush too small to hold its weight

I had shot the Merlin just before I began shooting the swallows. Here’s a better photo of a Merlin that I had shot on Saturday.

Merlin

That would have been much better if there wasn’t a branch growing out of the Merlin’s head. But, they don’t stick around long enough for me to get into the best position to photograph them.

Merlin in flight

In a similar vein, I saw a flock of grackles…

Common grackles

…and I was going to go for a better flock shot of them all showing their yellow eyes and their colors, when a gunshot from nearby caused this to happen before I could recompose for the flock shot.

Common grackles in flight

Oh well, nobody wants to see grackles anyway.

I did go for a stroll through one of the woodlots at the wastewater facility on Saturday, but the only bird that I could get close to was this blue-grey gnatcatcher.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

The gnatcatcher was one of many small birds of various species that I saw, but migrating birds are extra wary, or so it seems, as I couldn’t get close enough to any of the others for any photos, not even bad ones.

Here’s the rest of the photos from Saturday.

Sandhill cranes in flight

 

Virginia creeper

I was able to get close enough to a great egret that I had to turn the camera to portrait orientation when it raised its head…

Great egret

…then go back to landscape orientation when it lowered its head.

Great egret

It was nice enough to do a few wing stretches for me as well.

Great egret

This red-tailed hawk was calling to another that was circling the same area. I couldn’t tell if they were a mated pair, or if the one on the ground was warning the other to stay away from its hunting area.

Red-tailed hawk calling to another

I also caught a turkey vulture sunning itself to warm up on a chilly morning.

Turkey vulture warming itself in the sun

I tried sneaking up on some sandhill cranes, but this was the best that I could do.

Sandhill crane

I’ll be glad when the ducks have grown their breeding plumage, as it’s hard to tell them apart at this time of year, especially the young ones.

Juvenile hooded merganser

There’s no mistaking a juvenile turkey vulture though.

Juvenile turkey vulture

Well, that’s not all the photos that I have, nor everything that I’m thinking about at this time, but I suppose that this is where I should end this post.

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


I hope that you don’t mind?

Preface: Many of the images in this post will be of a different style from what I usually post, I hope that you don’t mind.

My decision to post less often was a good one, based on the photos that I shot the following weekend. I didn’t get a single very good image, only a handful of so-so images that may or may not appear here. I spent a good deal of time looking for a Hudsonian Godwit which had been seen at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but it had apparently moved on. That’s a species of shorebird that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. It’s also one of the larger shorebirds, so I didn’t check out all of the smaller shorebirds there, which was a mistake. That’s because a red knot, another species that I need photos of, was seen there on the day when I was looking for the godwit. So I missed one species while looking for another.

Having made the decision to upgrade my wide-angle lenses rather than purchase a full frame camera, I have ordered a Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L series lens. I may have well received it and put it to a few tests before I get around to publishing this post. My reasons for ordering that lens first were because the instant rebates offered by Canon were about to expire, and I hope to put that lens to good use this fall as I’m shooting more landscapes of the fall colors.

I know that I’ve written more about wanting the 24-105 mm lens, but that was if I purchased a full frame camera. That lens isn’t as wide as I need for many landscape images if shot on my crop sensor 7D. On the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens becomes a 25.6-56mm lens on a crop sensor body, which is better suited for many of the landscape photos that I hope to shoot this fall. Besides, the 24-105 mm lens is still too new for Canon to offer rebates on it, and I know that they will eventually. I refuse to pay full price, since I know that it’s only a matter of time before Canon does offer rebates.

One of the major factors in choosing that particular lens over others, even if some of the others are a tad sharper and/or cheaper, was the fact that this lens takes 77 mm filters. That’s the same size as my longer lenses, and I already have polarizing and neutral density filters that size. That saves me the money because I won’t have to purchase more filters, and it means less hassle of lugging more filters with me. I have learned that there’s more to consider than the price and quality of any particular lens alone when deciding which one to purchase, as any filters that I’d like to use aren’t cheap if I match the quality of the filters to the quality of the lens. One thing that I’ve done to improve the quality of the images that I shoot was to quit using UV filters on my lenses, even though I had purchased fairly good ones for my lenses. For the polarizing and neutral density filters I purchased, I went with much higher quality filters, with a much larger price tag.

Before placing the order, I reviewed many of the landscape photos that I’ve shot the past few years, and I can see that I need more than a better lens to improve my skills at landscape photography. Having a new lens to play with gives me a great excuse to go out looking for landscapes to practice on.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and in so many of the landscape photos that I reviewed, I kept asking myself why I hadn’t moved this way or that, or gotten higher or lower. By the way, I chose to review landscapes that I’m very familiar with in order to make the review process more worthwhile. That’s how I could tell that I had missed the best shot possible as I settled for less than I could have achieved. If I had reviewed landscape photos of places that I had only been to once or twice, I wouldn’t have been able to see how many mistakes that I made, since I wouldn’t be able to remember how the overall scene looked as I shot it.

I know that here in my blog that I tend to speak negatively about the photos that I shoot, as I’m always looking for ways to get better images of all kinds. By pointing out my own shortcomings, I hope that those things stick in my head the next time that I have a similar opportunity to shoot the same subject, and I won’t make the same mistakes again. It’s also because I don’t want any one to think that I’m bragging, as I’m not really as good as I think that I am, or that my way is the only way. However, even in the landscape images that I reviewed, I can see how much I have improved over time.

I think that I have a good grasp on the fundamentals, but it’s my execution that isn’t up to snuff, at least in most of my attempts. Once in a while I get it right, and a great image is the result. I’ve also gotten much better at taking advantage of magic light when it happens, finding a way to capture the moment no matter where I am at the time.

Magic light

I should put myself in more photogenic places than the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but that’s the thing about magic light, you never know when or where it will happen.

I hope to have all three days of the upcoming Labor Day weekend off from work, although they are trying their best to screw that up for me even as I type this. If I do have all three days off, then I may devote at least part of one day to landscapes, even though I won’t have received the new lens by then. I’d better quit working on this post for a while, or I’ll go into a long rant about the place that I work and how they find ways to cheat me out of pay that I have coming, how they go back on every promise that they make, and other things as well. Let’s just say that I’m in the process of finding other employment.

It’s now Sunday morning, the middle of my three days off from work, and I’m about to leave to try to get some better photos than I was able to capture on Saturday. I wasn’t able to get close to a single bird, and most of the time, I found myself in the wrong place at the right time to shoot the photos that I would have liked to have shot. It didn’t help that my employer called me mid-morning, expecting me to drop what I was doing and rush in to cover a load because they hadn’t calculated the manpower that they required for the loads that they had for the day.

Anyway, this is what I mean about being in the wrong spot at the right time.

Great blue heron in flight

I hadn’t planned on shooting any photos of the heron, as the light was so wrong, but I was practicing tracking it. When I saw the reflection on the shimmering water, I shot a burst even though I knew that the heron would be little more than a silhouette.

That’s the way most of my day went, so I tried shooting in styles that are different from my usual bird portraits, like these mute swans napping.

Tranquility

I also shot this photo, even though it isn’t very good, but it does show one reason why the Muskegon County wastewater facility attracts so many birds.

Wall of insects

What looks like mist or haze is made up of swarms of insects that form above the vegetation between the lagoons and the drainage ditch that is off to the right in this photo. The insects spend part of their life-cycle as aquatic nymphs, which provide food for the shorebirds and ducks that come to the wastewater facility. Once the insects become adults that can fly, they provide food for the swallows and other birds that feast on insects.

By the way, that photo also illustrates why I’m loathe to switch lenses while I’m near swarms of insects like that. I can usually keep most of the insects out of my vehicle, but not always, and the last thing I need is an insect getting into my camera body while I’m swapping lenses.

Now then, back to being at the wrong place at the right time.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I was shooting almost directly into the sun for that one, so I let the cranes become silhouettes again, rather than get the cranes exposed correctly. Here’s another similar photo. With small flocks of cranes coming to one of the farmed fields there at the wastewater facility, I couldn’t resist shooting this as the cranes prepared to land.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I have several images that show even more cranes, but then they are overlapping one another. I prefer this one with the cranes spread out more. Several small flocks like this one came to land in a farm field where they had just shut off the irrigation system on that field. Had I known what was going to happen, I’d have gotten set up to shoot a video or two to capture the sounds of the cranes calling as they came to the field. Many species of birds flock to the farm fields there at the wastewater facility when the irrigation sprinklers are shut off, including the cranes, geese, gulls, crows, and some of the puddle ducks like mallards. The fields are muddy and often have large puddles of standing water then, and I’m sure that the birds find it easier to find insects then, along with tender shoots of plants that are just sprouting.

Speaking of farm fields, here’s my one attempt at a landscape photo from Sunday.

Cornfield

I needed an extra foot of height from my tripod with the gimbal head on it for me to have gotten the exact composition that I wanted, so I had to make do with that. Also, if I’m going to use the 7D for landscapes, as I did with that image, I need a lot more practice. I’m so used to using the 60D that I had trouble making the 7D do what I wanted it to do for a landscape image.

You’d think that two Canon cameras with crop sensors would work exactly the same way, but they don’t. I couldn’t make the 7D shoot three bracketed images automatically when using live view as the 60D does. I’ve gotten used to using the live view when shooting landscapes because I can step back from the camera and check the composition on the screen before I press the shutter release. I can still do that with the 7D, but I have to turn off live view first, at least until I figure out how to make it work the way that I want it to.

I suppose that I could continue to use the 60D for most of my landscape images, as it does well enough. But, the 7D has even more features that make it the better camera to use once I learn how to take advantage of those features. I still use the 60D for most of the macro photos that I shoot.

Aster

But, seeing the details that I was able to get in the insect images from my last post, I should use the 7D more often rather than settling for this quality of image.

Beetles on an aster flower

On Monday, I returned to the wastewater facility yet again, and soon after I had arrived, another older gentleman motioned me to stop as I was approaching where he was parked. I say another older gentleman, because I have to remember that the term applies to me these days.

Anyway, he had been photographing shorebirds and wanted some help identifying the birds that he had shot so far. So, I had a look at the birds there in that area, and told him what I thought that they were. We also went back through the images that he had shot earlier in other locations, and I did the best that I could as far as identifying the birds by viewing the images on the small screen on his camera. We also talked about field guides for birds and photography as well. At some point in our talking, I noticed the sun breaking through the cloud cover that day, and I shot this flock shot of some of the birds we were watching at the time.

Assorted shorebirds and a gull

I wouldn’t have tried a portrait shot from that angle unless I had no other choice, but I like that one of the flock with the sunlight playing off the water and how contrasty the backlighting made the birds.

After the other older gentleman left, I got serious about shooting a portrait of one of the sanderlings that made up part of the flock.

Sanderling

I’ve photographed that species before, but never as well as these two images turned out.

Sanderling

Remember, when you see one of my images that are as good as that one is, this is what I’m dealing with as I try to shoot still images.

Every species of shorebird feeds a little differently, the sanderlings are non-stop motion as the run in and out with the waves, picking up tidbits of food that the waves bring in. I should have used my tripod when shooting the video, even the stills for that matter, but I was sitting behind a clump of weeds on the slope down to the lagoon to get the stills and video. Setting up the tripod on the slope would have been a problem, and I didn’t want to spook the birds since they were close, and I had good light for photos.

Going even further, I could have tried the portable hide for the first time ever, but I didn’t really need it to get a good image of a sanderling. By the way, the other shorebirds that you see in the video and the first still image are lesser yellowlegs and semi-palmated sandpipers, and I already have good close-ups of both of those species. I suppose that I could have sat there for hours trying for even better images of all three species, but I didn’t like the background there, and the light was just okay, not great.

As it was, every once in a while, the entire flock would take off and fly to another spot close by, but then return a short time later. With my luck, if I had set-up the portable hide, the birds wouldn’t have returned.

Assorted shorebirds in flight

 

Assorted shorebirds in flight

 

Assorted shorebirds in flight

I should set-up the hide in a spot where I know that a belted kingfisher likes to perch as it watches for fish to eat.

Female belted kingfisher

Then, maybe I’d get a better photo than that, or than these.

Male belted kingfisher

Why is it that they will only hold still for a photo when the light isn’t the greatest?

Male belted kingfisher

At least this guy gave me a few good poses before it took off.

Male belted kingfisher

I’ll never be a real birder, as I refuse to try to identify and count all of the birds in this photo.

Birds of a feather?

Most of the ducks are northern shovelers, but there’s a few mallards and other species mixed in, along with the gulls.

Speaking of gulls, I spotted another lesser black-backed gull on Monday, although it was too far away for a good photo.

Lesser black-backed gull and herring gulls

But, that’s a “for the record” type of photo and to show that I do see a variety of species each time that I’m out. I have plenty of photos left from Saturday and Sunday of this long holiday weekend, and also some left from last weekend. However, I’m going to finish this post off with a few more images from Monday.

I suppose that it’s because they are in the news so much as being threatened that I can’t resist shooting a monarch butterfly if it will pose for me.

Monarch butterfly

I cropped the next one to show it drinking nectar from the goldenrod, and I was also trying to show its eye better.

Monarch butterfly

At the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve on Monday, I found a number of flowers. Of course I found them on Monday when it was cloudy and windy, not on Saturday or Sunday when I was there with better light and no wind to deal with.

Unidentified white aquatic flowers

I think that I should know what these white flowers are, but I haven’t had time to go back to the past few years of my photos to check if I’ve seen them before, and what they are.

Unidentified white aquatic flowers

They’ve been removing some of the thick underbrush at the preserve and I found these blue flowers growing in an area where they had opened the understory of vegetation up to allow more small plants to grow. I’m not sure if these are wildflowers, or if some one planted them in the opening they’ve created.

Unidentified small blue flowers

Each flower was about half an inch across and the plant itself was close to a foot tall.

It’s the same for these pink flowers, they were about the same size as the blue ones. However, the plants that produced the flowers grew to over a foot tall. I had to shoot quite a few photos to get these poor ones, due to the wind gusts of over 25 MPH coming off from Muskegon Lake at the time.

Unidentified small pink flowers

I thought about going back to my car and getting my macro lens to photograph these flowers, but it had become solidly overcast by then, and it began to rain shortly after I shot those photos. With the wind and no light, it didn’t seem worth it to try for any better images than I had already.

I spent the rest of Monday shooting really bad landscape photos in the rain with the 7D Mk II in preparation of the arrival of the new lens. It’s going to take some getting used to as I use the 7D for more of my landscape images, and that body has many more features geared towards landscapes than the 60D has, so it will be worth it in the long run. I used the 70-200 mm lens, since it is about the same quality of lens as the one that I have ordered. I’m not going to post any of the landscapes that I shot, but I could see in them that with a better lens, I get more detail in the images. I should be able to pick up the new lens tomorrow, and give it a try around home before next weekend. I’ll be watching the weather forecasts closely this week, as I’ll probably plan to go out and shoot plenty of landscapes as I test out the new lens if the weather is good for that.

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


Like a hole in the head

Now that I have the package of 13 X 19 inch Canon semi-gloss SG-201 photo paper and have made a few prints that size, I’ve come to a decision. I don’t need another camera, any more than I need a hole in my head. I’ll tell you why in a second, but first there’ll be a disclaimer section and a bit more about the Pixma Pro 100 printer.

I’m not sure why, but the prints that I’ve made so far are sharper than those that I’ve had made by a photo lab. It could be because I was using the cheaper photo labs, but my thought is that it’s because I’m printing directly from my RAW files through Lightroom. So, I can’t guarantee that very one using this same printer would see the same results that I see, unless they are also printing from Lightroom. That applies to the paper as well, that’s the only grade of paper that I’ve tested so far, so the results on other papers may not be the same.

However, the results that I see in the few prints that I’ve made are so good, that they’ve caused me to rethink many things, including going to a full frame camera.

At the suggestion of Marianne, one of the commenters to my last post, I printed out the image of the great blue heron from that post.

Great blue heron

As the print came out of the printer, the first thing that I noticed was that I could tell that the heron’s eye was moist from how well the printer reproduced the image. Then, I looked at the incredible details in the feathers of the heron. I had to go back to the image on my computer and zoom in to see if the level of detail that I saw in the print was there in the image as seen on the computer. Of course it was, but I hadn’t zoomed in far enough before to notice it. I knew that the image was sharp, but I hadn’t realized just how sharp it was.

That was shot with the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens on the 7D Mk II, and all I can say is that I don’t see how any other camera/lens combination could produce more detail in a print than what I see in the print that I made. Possibly the same lens on the Canon 5DS R, Canon’s 50 MP full frame camera, could be better, but it can’t be by very much if it is. And, only if some one looked at the print much more closely than any average person would view such a print.

That was shot in good light, which helps to bring out the level of detail that I see, but it was shot at ISO 640 because of the higher shutter speed that I used for that image. So, I went back and printed out the mute swan from the last post at 13 X 19, which was shot at ISO 100 with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, and I can see almost the same level of detail in that print.

Mute swan portrait

I don’t need a full frame camera to improve the details in my landscape images, I need better wide-angle lenses on the 7D. I shoot 95% of the landscapes that I shoot at ISO 100 anyway, because I use a tripod. So noise is never a problem when I shoot landscapes, and getting away from noise was another major factor in my desire for a full frame camera, other than resolution.

I know that there will be times when I’ve shot photos in low light at higher ISO settings, and I’ll be wishing that there wasn’t as much noise as I get that way, but after some thought, I can live with what I get with the 7D. I can remove all or most of the noise in Lightroom if I want to make a print of an image shot at a higher ISO. And to be honest with myself, few of the images that I shoot at higher ISO settings are worth printing anyway, because of other factors.

I have just a bit of technical talk left, and it concerns the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter. You may remember that I said in my last post that I had gotten brave, and adjusted the focusing of that lens and extender combination by using controls built into the 7D Mk II. I’d say that I nailed the adjustment.

Unidentified dragonfly

Where ever I put the focus point, that’s what’s now in focus.

Monarch butterfly

And, I no longer think that the 300 mm lens that I have is any sharper than the 100-400 mm lens.

Monarch butterfly

In fact, I can see that the 100-400 mm lens is even sharper than the 300 mm lens! And, I can see that I don’t need to upgrade my camera to get better details and resolution in my images. I’m going beyond what we can see with the naked eye, and getting details that we can only see with a magnifying glass in real life.

Monarch butterfly

Sorry, that brings up another point about upgrading my camera, I’ve gotten so spoiled by the 7D Mk II and all of its bells and whistles that it would be hard for me to do with less. That’s even though I didn’t think that I’d be using all those bells and whistles when I purchased that camera. I never thought that I would need to fine tune the auto-focusing of a lens, but it’s made a huge difference in shots like these.

Unidentified dragonfly

I purchased the 7D Mk II for its fast auto-focusing system, and because it’s built like a tank, with full weather sealing. Little did I know at the time that some of the features that I thought that I’d never use would become as important to me as they have become.

Unidentified dragonfly

I won’t run through the list of features that I have ended up using, I’ll just say once again that the 7D has spoiled me, and going to a camera with fewer features, like the 6D Mk II, doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified grasshopper

Those were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Saturday, August 19. It was a slow day for birding because I had arrived so late in the day, but I did shoot a couple of throw away type photos of a couple of eastern kingbirds that I saw, just to make sure that adjusting the focusing of the 100-400 mm lens hadn’t changed how well it does at longer ranges.

Eastern kingbird

 

Eastern kingbird

It’s too soon to tell about that though.

I could continue to babble away about the technical aspects of the decisions that I’ve made, but as I learn more about photography overall, the technical side is only part of the equation. I’ve seen a lot of technically good photos that when I look at them, but I wonder why some one shot that image in the first place. Those images don’t move me at all. On the other hand, I’ve loved some of the technically poor images that I’ve seen, because of the subject, the action that was captured, or the image connected with me because of the emotional factors that the image evoked in me.

While not rare in Michigan, it isn’t everyday that I see an osprey, and what this one was doing at the wastewater facility is beyond me. Maybe it was a young bird looking for a place to call its home territory, but the wastewater facility isn’t it, as there are few fish there other than the small fish in the drainage ditches there. I would have been less surprised if I had seen the osprey at the man-made lakes, but I don’t think that the fish in those lakes would support an osprey for very long either.

Osprey

That was shot from almost 75 yards away using the 100-400 mm lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing along with the image being cropped considerably. It was nice of the osprey to stick around as long as it did for me to get that shot. While the image quality may not be that great, it’s nice to have 800 mm of reach at times when I can’t get as close to a subject as I would prefer.

I’m beginning to see signs that fall is approaching more often all the time, whether it’s in the form of leaves on trees changing color already…

First signs of fall

…or in the way that birds are starting to form larger flocks for the upcoming migration.

Sandhill cranes

I eventually got a couple of close-ups of one of the cranes.

Sandhill crane

But by that time, it was the middle of the day, and heat waves once again ruined what would have been very good images if I had been able to shoot them earlier in the day.

Sandhill crane

I also shot a series of photos of a short-billed dowitcher…

Short-billed dowitcher

…as it dried its wings after a bath.

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

 

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

 

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

It even went airborne, hovering in place as it flapped.

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

While these photos are far from what I would have liked to have shot, they do show the patterns of the dowitcher’s feathers under its wings.

It’s funny, a few years ago I didn’t know any of the shorebirds other than killdeer and spotted sandpipers. As I’ve been working on the My Photo Life List project, I have learned to identify many of the shorebirds, and even gotten good images of most of the species. Now, I want great images of all of the species that I’ve already shot photos of, and posted to the My Photo Life List project. And, that includes action photos, showing the behaviors of the different species. I suppose that over time I will get the images that I want, it’s unrealistic of me to think that I’m going to get a perfect shot of a species of bird the first time that I see it.

I settled for a lot of poor images when I first began that project because I didn’t know that many of the species that I was seeing are actually quite common. That came from being new to birding. But, my skills as a photographer were also lacking, three years ago, I’d have never been able to get the images of the dowitcher drying its wings because I was shooting towards the sun as I shot them. So, I suppose that you could say that because I shot so many poor images in the past that I’ve finally learned how to get usable photos under poor conditions.

I have one more series of photos along those lines, a least sandpiper taking a bath.

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper drying its wings

Hopefully, one of these days I’ll be closer, with the light coming from the right direction, to shoot better photos of the action.

When it comes to saving images to put into the blog posts I do, I always wonder if I should use the current images that I’ve shot, or wait until I shoot better ones. That’s becoming harder, not easier, because the overall quality of my images has improved so much over the life of my blog. On the other hand, I’m also seeing that what I shoot today will be surpassed by what I shoot next month, or next year. In just the past month, I’ve gotten my best ever images of several species of birds, including the bald eagle from the last post.

Bald eagle

But, I’m also sure that it’s only a matter of time before I’ve gotten an even better image of a bald eagle.

So, I’m thinking of posting less often than I have in the past, another advantage of that is that it will give me more free time to get outside to shoot more. As I’ve said in the past, time is the real factor limiting my photography. That’s especially true this weekend, I took Monday off from work to have the service done on my Subaru, and to photograph the near total eclipse of the sun as seen here in Michigan.

Near total eclipse of the sun, August 21, 2017

As far as photos, the eclipse was a bit of a bust, since I didn’t travel a few hundred miles south and fight the crowds to see what’s called the totality and the diamond ring effect that I’m sure that every one has seen by now. But watching it live as it happened was awesome, well worth a day away from work. But, that means that I’m working this Saturday to make up for it, which limits my time even more than usual.

Also, posting less often removes some of the pressure that I feel to shoot only what I can photograph well, meaning mostly birds. If I’m going to spend the money to upgrade my wide-angle lenses, then I should learn how to use them effectively, or it will be money down the drain. That means going out and shooting landscapes mostly, even if I shoot them at the wrong time of day, or I shoot other subjects that may not be worthy of posting here in my blog right now. This is all part of my plans for the future, once I retire in just a few short years. I’d rather not wait until I get to one of America’s fabulous National Parks to learn how to shoot good landscape images. So, I had better get started now around home to learn how to shoot other than birds.

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


This is what it’s all about

I’ve started two draft posts about the fact that because of the level of detail and color reproduction that I’m seeing in the prints that I’ve been making with the new printer, that I have decided that I don’t need a better camera than the 7D Mk II that I’m using now. Those drafts are full of technical reasons why, but before I get started down that road again, this is why I’ve been working so hard to improve my photography. You can click on any of these photos to see a larger version of them.

Bald eagle

And, that’s not even the good shot, but it’s the one that will fit in the header of my blog the best, here are the good shots.

Bald eagle

Look at those eyes!

Bald eagle

Those show the details that I’m getting in my images these days, I think that this next one is all about the colors.

Great blue heron

Look at the beautiful shades of blue-grey tinged in brown in places that show on the heron’s wing.

This next one puts everything all together in one dramatic statement of what’s possible in photography these days.

Cedar waxwing

You can see how smooth and svelte the waxwing looks, but you can also make out the textures of its feathers, and for the first time, I captured the subtle barring that they have on their wings. Such beautiful birds deserve to be photographed well.

For me, it’s always been about showing others the beauty that I see in nature, and it’s finally showing up in my images.

Great blue heron in flight

You can see that many of the heron’s feathers are edged in another color, and how the feathers overlap to create the patterns you can see in these images.

Great blue heron in flight

It isn’t just birds, it is other subjects also.

Bumblebee?

I shot all of these on Sunday, and I’ve already put the insect photos that I shot on Saturday in another post, but here’s one from Saturday that I’ll also put in this post.

Monarch butterfly

I never knew that a monarch’s eyes had a hint of blue, or that a bumblebee’s eyes had stripes. I’m learning that the things seen in nature are even more beautiful than I had thought that they were.

I have a knack for catching birds striking a humorous pose…

Eastern Phoebe

…and now, I can make them appear even more life-like in my images.

Eastern Phoebe

I can also show every one when I find a red-tailed hawk that decided to go blonde.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

I don’t know if that hawk is leucitic, or if it’s a juvenile that hasn’t grown the brown feathers on its head the way most red-tailed hawks do. Either way, it looks a bit odd with a white head, as if it was trying to impersonate an eagle.

To prove that I still shoot bad photos, and that I’m not just doing this post to brag, here’s an odd sight, a turkey in flight.

Juvenile turkey in flight

I saw the turkey on the right edge of the road that I was driving on, and assumed that it would turn around and dive into the tall grass to hide as turkeys usually do 99.9% of the time. It didn’t though, as you can see, it flew across the road ahead of me so that I could shoot its butt with the camera pointed towards the sun.

While I do shoot a bad image from time to time, I am getting my ducks all in a row.

This year’s young are almost as big as their mother.

Here are the rest of the images that I saved from today.

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Dickcissel with a grasshopper

 

Bald eagle shot at 800 mm and live view focusing

I had the wrong camera and lens with me when this juvenile bald eagle flew past me, so I had to make do with what I had. They were shot just seconds after the bumblebee from earlier in this post.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Here’s something that you don’t see everyday, three great blue herons in a small area together. They’re normally solitary birds that will drive others of their species away, or be driven away by a more dominant one.

Great blue herons hanging out

As I’ve been driving for work each day the past week, I saw a large flock of great egrets in a small pond next to the expressway. I saw 12 egrets there on Friday, I went to that pond both Saturday and Sunday, and only this egret remained. I decided for a wider shot to show the habitat they prefer. I would have loved to have gotten the flock of egrets together though.

Great egret

I’ve already decided that I should do more of the wider photos to show the habitat that the birds prefer, but as you can see, I need more practice on them.

The next post will contain more of the insects that I shot Saturday, as well as other subjects, and my long discussion about how I decided that I don’t need to purchase a better camera. By the way, the adjustment that I made to the focusing of the 100-400 mm lens with the tele-converter attached seems to have worked. I had no trouble getting near macro photos of the insects as you will see.

It may have sounded like I was bragging (maybe just a little) but mostly, I’m excited that I’m able to show the subjects that I shoot as near to the way that they look in real life to me as I photograph them. And in the case of insects, I’m getting more in my images than I can see in real life. My goal has always been to show others the beautiful things that I see in nature, and I’m finally getting to the point where I can.

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


Always checking, always learning

It’s Sunday morning as I sit here drinking my coffee and admiring the new Canon Pixma Pro 100 printer that I’ve purchased. It’s huge, and it weighs a ton, but getting it set-up was glitch free, and it produces better 8 X 10 inch prints than what I get from either of the local retail chains that do photo printing. I didn’t time it, but I’ll bet that it took me close to two hours to get the printer unboxed, remove all the packing inside of it, install the print head and ink cartridges, and make the test prints. The only real glitch that I ran into was finding the correct dialog box in the Canon software to make the most important adjustments such as paper size and print quality, but I did find it eventually. I have installed the Lightroom plug-in so that I can print directly from within Lightroom which was part of the reason I wasn’t able to find the dialog box for the printer driver as quickly as I think that I should have been able to.

The free package of 50 sheets of 13 X 19 inch photo paper that was part of the deal that I got on the printer was delayed, so I purchased a 50 sheet pack of the 8 X 10 paper in the same grade of paper locally yesterday. One thing that’s important for getting the best quality prints is to set the correct paper profile in whatever software you use to make the prints. I purchased the same grade of paper as the large sheets will be when they arrive simply to make things easier for me as I learn the printer better. That way, I won’t be changing the printer profiles other than setting the correct size, and I’m very happy with the Canon SG-201 semi-gloss paper so far. Once I’ve master the printer, then I may experiment with other papers.

Oh, one other thing, the USB cable that comes with the printer is ridiculously short, which I read complaints about in the reviews for the printer. So when I ordered the printer, I also ordered an inexpensive USB extension cord with the printer so that I could have the printer more than a foot from my computer. While the printer can print wirelessly, it has to be set-up while a USB cable is attached between the computer and printer. Since I have open USB ports, I’ll leave the cable connected for quicker printing. If any one is thinking of purchasing the same printer, I would recommend also getting a USB 3 extension cable with a male type A plug on one end, and a female type A plug on the other. It’s working out very well so far. As I said, print quality is excellent, better than I thought it would be.

I think that one of the reasons for the print quality that I see is that since I can print directly from Lightroom, I can print directly from my RAW files, and since I use a Mac computer, I am sending the print job to the printer in the full 16 bit color space of Lightroom. (Actually, the 14 bit color space of my camera, which is still better than a JPEG) When I have prints made by a photo lab, I have to reduce the RAW files to JPEG, and they use just 8 bit color space, along with the compression that converting from RAW to JPEG entails. There isn’t a huge difference, but the prints that I’ve made at home are sharper with more vibrant colors than those made by a photo lab.

It’s also very handy to see the results almost instantly, and make corrections if needed. So far, every print I’ve made has been good, although I did accidentally crop off part of a butterfly’s wing in one of the first prints that I tried making. That was just part of the learning curve as far as I’m concerned. I’ve made the same mistake when I’ve sent photos to a lab for printing, but then the only remedy was to pay to have another print made. If I had been paying attention to the details as I was setting up to make the print, I wouldn’t have made that mistake. But, I find that the photo labs make that mistake because the entire process is automated these days, and the software doesn’t always make the correct decisions when fitting an image to the size paper that I’ve chosen. That applies to brightness and contrast as well, the cheaper photo labs that I’ve been using have an automated process that often “corrects” what it sees as it reads the images, and just as the light meter in a camera can be fooled by a bright white or very dark subject, the automated process of the photo labs can be also fooled.

I don’t plan on producing that many prints, but I think that I’ll do one or two of the images that I shoot each week to check my progress as a photographer, and to keep the ink in the printer from drying up. The smaller sheets of photo paper will work for that, and I’ll keep the large sheets for the few exceptional images that I shoot. Or, when some one requests a print for purchase, which happens from time to time, and is happening more often these days.

Unless you’re planning on producing a good number of prints, I wouldn’t recommend to any one that they purchase a photo printer. The ink cartridges and paper are quite expensive, I won’t be saving much, if any, over having the prints made at a photo lab. And, you do have to use the printer often enough to keep the ink from drying up in the print head and nozzles, or have the expense of replacing the print head. But, having full creative control of the printing process and getting higher quality prints than produced by the cheaper photo labs are worth it to me. Also, one of the photo labs that I used in the past is dropping gloss paper as an option for printing. I tried a few prints on their matte paper, but if you’re going for sharp prints of birds and wildlife, then you do not want to print on matte paper!

Matte paper may be a better choice for dreamy landscapes and other subjects where sharpness isn’t a concern, but the wildlife prints I had done on matte paper were the pits. That’s because ink soaks into matte paper more than glossy paper, so the ink bleeds across the color graduations in the print, leaving less definition between colors, which leaves the print looking soft. So, because the one lab is dropping gloss paper, I had to find another source for printing, which is another reason that I took the plunge and purchased the photo printer. The semi-gloss paper I’ve been using so far works very well. I may get adventurous some day and try out other papers, but that will be when I’ve mastered the printer better.

Anyway, I’d better get to a photo or two here.

Fungi mini-scape

 

Early morning fountain

Those were shot on Saturday morning, before I picked up the printer and ran the other errands that needed to be taken care of before I set the printer up. Here’s a few more of the images from my walk.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker

 

American goldfinch

 

Pigeons in flight

 

Pigeon in flight

I’m not sure how this came to be.

What the?

My first thought was that some one had put the rope in the tree, but the hole that the rope is in is 20 feet off the ground. Also, the tree is surrounded by a thick tangle of brush that would be hard to walk through to get to the tree, and there were no signs of that happening. While I still think that some one did this, there’s the chance that a red squirrel found the rope and dragged it into the hollow tree. Once the squirrel had the rope in the hollow tree, it could have chewed up the rope to make a comfy nest for itself, rather than carrying dead leaves into the hollow tree. I’ll have to keep an eye on it, as you can see in the photo, something had been chewing on the hole in the tree to enlarge the opening, recently enough so that the exposed wood hadn’t had a chance to take on the weather appearance of the smaller holes that you can see. I doubt if a person would have chewed on the wood to create the same effect.

Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Unidentified flowering object

On Sunday, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility yet again. Once again, I looked for a good place to set-up the portable hide that I’ve never used yet, but I didn’t find the right circumstances to give it a try. Even though I didn’t test the portable hide, I did learn more about what will be the right circumstances to use it.

I did a quick drive through in the area of the wastewater plant itself, and didn’t see much to photograph. So, I went to the man-made lakes which while on the wastewater facility’s property, are almost a full mile from the plant itself. I parked there by the lake and as I was looking around, I spotted a belted kingfisher in a tree very close to me, but partially hidden by the branches of the tree. I waited and waited, but the kingfisher never moved, that is, until I opened the door of my car, then it was off in an instant. I had the camera that I use for bird portraits in my hand, but with the kingfisher taking off, I tried to switch cameras to get a shot of it in flight. Fail!

As it was, I had to settle for this poor image taken later on.

Female belted kingfisher

I did get this image of a solitary sandpiper in flight later on though.

Solitary sandpiper in flight

There were plenty of birds in the area, but they stayed out of camera range most of the time. Whenever one came close enough to me, I’d shoot it.

Female mallard in flight

You can just make out something in this swallow’s bill, I caught it just as it caught an insect.

Juvenile barn swallow catching a meal

But trust me, even with the camera and lens that I’m using now, getting a good image of a swallow in flight is tough.

Juvenile barn swallow in flight

It was a slow day as far as photographing birds in some ways, in other ways, there were plenty of birds to photograph, but mostly the most common species that I see. So, I spent the rest of the day doing some more testing of the two lenses that I use most often. I’ll try not to go into detail, as you won’t be able to see the differences between the two lenses in the way that I present the images here in my blog.

These first three were all shot with the 100-400 mm zoom lens and 1.4 X tele-converter because of the distance between myself and the birds.

Mute swan portrait

 

Sandhill cranes

Turkey vultures are social birds, sometimes too social. When I first saw these three, all of them were trying to spread their wings to warm themselves up, but by the time I worked my way into position to photograph them, this is what I got.

Turkey vultures

The two on the crossbar were nudging each other to make room to spread their wings, you’d have thought that they would have spread out farther apart than that.

Anyway, here’s a couple of images shot with the 400 mm prime lens.

Great blue heron

I wasn’t going to post any more butt shots of birds flying away from me, but that last one is too sharp not to post, You can see the heron’s eye, and also the color pattern on its neck very well.

Great blue heron in flight

The 400 mm prime lens is definitely a bit sharper than the 100-400 mm zoom, as it should be, as I’ve explained before. In a way, that’s hard to believe though, the 400 mm prime lens has been in production over 20 years, while the 100-400 mm zoom is one of Canon’s newest lenses.

And, using the tele-converter behind the zoom lens doesn’t make the images a fair test of the two lenses, that happened later, at the headquarters of the wastewater facility.

I went to the headquarters building to catch the hummingbirds that come to the feeders that they have set out for the hummers there.

Ruby-throated hummingbird approaching a feeder

Because I was hoping to catch a hummer in flight, I was using the 400 mm prime lens. However, I had many more opportunities to shoot other species of birds.

Juvenile American goldfinch

 

Chipping sparrow

Getting close to the birds wasn’t the problem, getting far enough away from them for the 400 mm prime lens to focus on them was. At one point, a pair of least flycatchers landed in the tree that I was standing next to, with one of them landing less than 6 feet away from me, in clear view. As I began to back away slowly and raise the camera at the same time, the flycatcher closest to me took off, and the other one, which was far enough away, flew off with the first.

I don’t think that it mattered which lens that I had with me, I wouldn’t have gotten the shot, which would have been close to perfect if I had gotten it. The flycatcher was too close for me to be able to get the camera to my eye without spooking the bird.

I had plenty of frustrations photographing this guy as well.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

He would perch where he could flaunt his bright red throat at me, until I tried to move into position to photograph him, then he would move into the shadows where my images don’t do his beauty justice.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

Because I was missing so many shots of birds because they were too close for the 400 mm prime lens, I switched to the 100-400 mm zoom lens, which focuses to around three feet.

Unidentified fly

I’ve used the 100-400 mm zoom lens for close-ups like that enough to know that I should adjust the focusing point at close distance. It focuses slightly behind where the focus point says that it’s focused on. However, I’m afraid of ruining how well that it focuses at distances that are more typical of the bird portraits that I use the lens for most of the time. I make do by focusing on something a bit closer than the point that I want to be in focus. It works well enough, but I should get brave and adjust the focus of that lens. Who knows, maybe the adjustment will show improvements at longer distances also.

Okay, I’ve gotten brave, I read the manual on how to adjust the focus of the zoom lens through the 7D Mk II. Being a zoom lens, I can adjust the focus for both the wide end of the zoom range, and the telephoto end of the zoom range. Since the issue seems to be at the telephoto end, I bumped the adjustment two “notches” closer for the time being. I made some test shots inside at the extreme close focusing range of the lens, and they look much better as far as the focus point focusing where I intend it to focus. I’ll have to test it on subjects farther away yet, but so far, so good.

That’s one of the many features of the 7D Mk II has that I’m learning to love more every day. I can adjust the focusing for up to 40 different lenses and/or 40 combinations of lenses with or without a tele-converter, and the camera remembers those changes and adjusts itself when it sees that particular lens or tele-converter and lens are mounted on the camera. It goes by the serial number of the lens, which the camera reads electronically. I know, I’m getting way too technical here, but this is a way for me to keep track of the adjustments that I make. If the adjustment doesn’t work, it’s simple enough for me to change it back.

I’ve since gone outside and shot a few test shots at varying distances, from extremely close to as far away as the moon. I think that the adjustment that I made worked well, but I’ll have to test it out more when I have more time. All the images were in focus, at the point where the focus point was when I shot the image. I didn’t have to fudge slightly for the images I shot for the test the way that I did when I shot the fly above.

Anyway, I continued standing next to the trees, shooting the various birds as they came into view.

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

I also caught up with the male hummer again, although he kept his back to me this time.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

I also tested the prime lens on this day lily.

Day lily

Now I’m a bit sorry that I didn’t take more time to think about that image before I shot it, since it was a test of sorts. It could have been much better than that, but it tells me what I needed to know as far as using that lens for subjects other than birds.

I thought about trying out the portable hide there where I shot these last photos, but I could never decide the exact spot that would give me a clear view of the birds as they came and went. I may not have moved very far while I was there at the headquarters building, but I moved around enough to get a clear view of the birds for most of the photos. So, I’m not sure how well the portable hide would work for small birds as they move around. If I had been using it, I may have gotten the least flycatcher that landed so close to me, but I would have never gotten the images of the hummingbird from that spot. It may be a matter of luck when setting up the portable hide to get photos of small birds, and I hate relying on luck. I guess that I’d rather have the frustrations of stalking birds in the brush only to have them fly away when I get a clear view of them, rather than sit and hope that a bird lands in the right spot. But, that may be changing.

The species of birds that I photographed there at the headquarters building were some of the smallest species of birds commonly seen in Michigan, with the hummingbirds being the smallest species here. They are also species that prefer thicker vegetation to stay hidden most of the time. The portable hide may be more useful when I shoot medium size songbirds, and I know that it will work when photographing the large birds.

I have one last photo, shot with a 60D and the 100 mm macro lens.

Bull thistle

At least I think that it’s a bull thistle, I could be wrong.

Important news about the printer

I have an update on the new Pixma Pro 100 printer, for those who asked about it. I’ve been printing everything through Lightroom and I’ve been getting excellent results. I was soft proofing every print in the development module, and I was finding that I had to brighten every image between 1/3 and 2/3 stop of exposure. No big deal, I’d let Lightroom make a proof copy of the image, make the necessary adjustments, and print that copy of the image to get the excellent results I was seeing. One good thing about making the copy is that if you want to print the same image again, the adjustments made for printing have been saved in the copy. But then, I got lazy.

There’s a check box at the bottom of the left panel in the print module called “Print Adjustment” which is supposed to allow you to adjust the exposure and contrast of every print that you make. The purpose is supposed to be an easy way to compensate for the fact that your computer monitor doesn’t match the printer output exactly. Even though the experts in the videos that I watched about printing from Lightroom said never to check that box or use that adjustment, I gave it a try.  The result was a disaster of a print, so wet with ink that it was practically dripping off from the paper, even though I made a very slight adjustment to the exposure slider that goes with the check box. So, even though I’m no expert, I will also tell you to never check that box or use the adjustments that checking it turns on. I’ll go back to soft proofing every image, and adjusting the exposure that way, when such an adjustment is required. Besides, then I have the copy to print from if I need to print the same image again.

I would have liked to have printed a 13 X 19 inch print by the time I published this, but that size paper won’t arrive in time. I see no reason to think that the results will be other than the same as I’ve seen with 8 X 10 prints, excellent. I find it hard to believe that a desktop photo printer can do better than commercial grade printers that the labs use, but that’s what I’m seeing in the prints that I’ve made so far. But as I’ve said, that could be due to how the prints are outputted to the printer in RAW through Lightroom, rather than from a JPEG as I have to do if I send an image to be printed by the lab.

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


Not quite back to normal

Most people reading this have probably seen the post that I did on the historical buildings in Ionia, Michigan which I shot on Sunday of last week. Saturday wasn’t a normal go out and chase the birds day either, for as I was pulling into the parking lot of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I saw Ric P., the president of the Muskegon County Nature Club. I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned him here before or not, but I do bump into him from time to time as we are out birding the same place at the same time.

Ric and I chatted for a while in the parking lot as he wrote down the birds we saw in the notebook he carries for that purpose and I looked for birds and other photo opportunities. Then, he went his way, which he bases on doing an accurate count, and I went my way, which I base on having the best light to photograph what I see.

Purple loosestrife covered in dew

By the way, the loosestrife was bent over from the weight of the dew, which is why it appears in the landscape orientation, unlike the next flowers.

Pickerel weed

I have a love/hate relationship with the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. There are plenty of birds and other subjects to photograph there, but the vegetation is so dense in most places that getting a good photo is difficult, if I can even see the birds that are flitting around in the vegetation, or that I can hear calling. Once in a while I get lucky, a bird will perch out in the open for me.

Starling

But most of the time, I’m working in the dense vegetation trying to get a clear view of a bird.

Juvenile yellow warbler

There are times when that’s a plus, because in such dense vegetation, I’m able to get very close to birds at times…

Juvenile northern flicker hiding

…even though they are trying to hide from me. But, if I remain still and wait, the lure of food often overrides their fear…

Juvenile northern flicker

…and I can catch them in the act of eating.

Juvenile northern flicker selecting a berry to eat

The sad part of this series of images is that I wasn’t able to catch the flicker taste testing the berries with its tongue…

Juvenile northern flicker taste testing the berry

…although I could see that in the viewfinder.

I did capture the act of swallowing the berry though.

Juvenile northern flicker swallowing a berry

I also caught the flicker tasting a berry…

Juvenile northern flicker tasting a berry

…then spitting it out, as it must not have tasted good.

Juvenile northern flicker spitting out a bad berry

Too bad that last image is a bit blurry, I don’t know if the auto-focus shifted, or if the flicker moved too quickly for the shutter speed I was shooting at.

That isn’t the first bird that I’ve photographed as it was eating, but it is the first flicker, and the photos show that they do eat berries in addition to ants, which are their main source of food.

I also saw this Baltimore oriole, either a juvenile or a male in the process of molting, and I loved the rich colors it was showing.

Baltimore oriole

I would have liked to have gotten closer as it preened, but standing water between the oriole and myself prevented that.

A short time later, I came upon a brood of juvenile barn swallows.

Juvenile barn swallows

I waited for a while to see if the parents returned to feed their young, but I believe that these were old enough to fend for themselves. So, I began to inch closer…

Juvenile barn swallow stretching its wings

…and closer.

Juvenile barn swallow

The sun was in the wrong location for a good image, but I couldn’t resist.

Juvenile barn swallow looking far a meal

If the swallow had looked down, it would have seen a school of large bluegills under the boardwalk…

Bluegill

…not that a swallow would have been interested in a fish.

The cardinal flowers have begun to bloom…

Cardinal flowers

…but I couldn’t get any closer because of the lake being as high as it is. I did wait in that spot for a while, hoping that a hummingbird would show up to feed from the cardinal flowers, but that didn’t happen. Cardinal flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds, so I should have waited longer.

Eventually, I got to the part of the boardwalk where I’ve been seeing the least bittern most often, and Ric was there, counting birds as usual. It wasn’t long before an osprey made an appearance, although too far away for a good image.

Osprey in flight

The two of us stood out there on the boardwalk chatting for a very long time. Mostly, it was I that spotted the birds by eye, Ric is able to identify more birds by their call than I am. Which way he was able to identify the birds didn’t matter, he tried to keep as accurate of a count of each species as he could.

We were treated by a number of the different species in the heron family as we talked. I noticed something then, how fast and how high members of the heron family fly is relative to their size. Large member of the heron family, like this great egret, fly slow and high.

Great egret in flight

Because of the lighting…

Great egret in flight

…you can see how little skeleton and muscle that they have in their wings.

Great egret in flight

That makes their flight even more amazing to me.

Great egret in flight

The green herons being smaller, fly faster and lower than their larger cousins do.

Green heron in flight

And, the least bitterns, the smallest member of the heron family…

Least bittern in flight

…fly the fastest and lowest of members of the heron family.

The least bitterns fly just above the vegetation, and they can really move when compared to their larger cousins, even green herons. That makes sense, being as small as they are, it’s much more likely that a raptor would try to make a meal of them. By flying low and fast, they can dive into the vegetation to escape airborne predators if needed.

I think that an eagle, a large hawk, or even a peregrine falcon would be capable of killing even the larger members of the heron family, but they’d have a fight on their hands to be sure. Even as large as they are, the agility in flight of the larger herons is something to see, and something that I hope to capture better one of these days. For a bird as small as the least bittern, which is about the size of a chicken, an attack by a raptor is a more likely proposition. That’s probably why they have evolved better suited for faster flight, and why they have learned to stay low and close to the safety of the vegetation that they live around.

It makes it difficult to photograph them though, I had several chances to shoot the bittern, but it was out of range by the time I got the camera on it most of the time.

Anyway, Ric and I spent a considerable amount of time on the boardwalk discussing birds, birding, and bird photography. We were joined by Ken, the person that I mentioned in a recent post as a regular visitor to the preserve, and I found the conversation to be quite a change from my usual solo outings. The conversation was very pleasant, but that was probably because neither Ric or Ken are the super-serious birders who set-up a spotting scope on a tripod and scan every inch of what’s in view in search of birds, and then discuss every nuance of a bird’s plumage. So while my photos in this post are mostly birds, the day wasn’t a typical day for me.

Have two more photos from the time that I spent at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, they’re both of the same chickadee.

Black-capped chickadee

Having a few good photos of chickadees, I was able to play around with the camera settings a bit more than I typically do.

All of the photos from the morning were shot with the 100-400 mm lens, which I carry at the preserve due to its versatility. The flowers and the chickadee were all closer to me than the minimum focusing distance of the 400 mm prime lens. Because it doesn’t focus at less than 11 feet, I assumed that the 400 mm prime lens wouldn’t be good for insects or other small subjects, but I may have to change my thinking a little.

Unidentified butterfly

I shot the butterfly while attempting to stalk hummingbirds at the wastewater facility. Since I failed at getting any of the hummers, I shot that butterfly as a way of keeping myself occupied.

There were at least three hummers chasing each other around, but I never got close to any of them where I had a clear view of any of them. They fly so fast that it’s hard to keep track of them as they’re flying, they’re just a blur as they whiz around. What surprised me was that the species of butterfly in the photo above can fly nearly as fast as the hummers do. I’d see a tiny blur go past me, and it wasn’t until the blur stopped that I could tell if it was a hummer, or one of those butterflies. Since I had the 400 mm lens with me hoping to catch a hummingbird in flight, it was all that I had to shoot the butterfly with. I had to do some serious cropping to the butterfly photo, but the results amazed me. I knew that lens was sharp, but I’m still learning how sharp it can be. To produce that image of a butterfly less than two inches across its wings while it’s 12 feet away from me is proof of how sharp it is.

And, I didn’t know that there were any species of butterflies capable of flying as fast as the species pictured above is. For me to mistake them for hummingbirds a few times should tell you how fast the butterflies are. I knew from when I’ve tried to keep up with other butterflies to get a photo that butterflies can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, but I don’t recall any of them flying fast enough to be mistaken for a hummingbird, other than the hummingbird moths. Nature continues to throw me more surprises all the time.

In other news, I have ordered a photo printer so that I can print my images at home. It’s a Canon Pixma Pro 100 that can print up to 13 X 19 inch prints. Canon is practically giving the printers away, knowing that they will make their money on ink cartridges and paper over time. I’ll be picking it up later today after I go for a walk around home. I should be able to tell you more about it in my next post.

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


The waiting game, Part II

It’s Saturday evening, after a day spent at the Muskegon County wastewater facility looking for a good opportunity to test out the portable hide that I purchased several months ago, but still haven’t used. I must have been at the wrong place at the wrong time for most of the day, that happens a lot when I get a late start. I never did set the portable hide up.

There were quite a few shorebirds when I arrived, and that would have been the best chance to test the hide all day. I did break out the tripod with the gimbal head later in the day, after I had shot this and other images of Bonaparte’s gulls earlier handheld.

Adult Bonaparte’s gull

The reason that I got the tripod out when I did was to test it for shooting video.

You can see that the Bonaparte’s gulls act nothing like their cousins the ring-billed and herring gulls from that video. They swim around picking insects and other small food sources from the water as you can see.

I’m happy to report that the gimbal head does work well for video, I had no trouble keeping the gull in the frame as it would lunge forward for prey, or turn sharply for the same reason.  Even though I was “filming” a moving bird, I was able to keep the camera steady on the tripod and head. I need more practice, but seeing the results in this one test will prompt me to use the set-up more often in the future.

The hardest hurdle for me to climb when it comes to sitting in one spot to either shoot videos or stills will be my lack of patience. It’s now Monday morning, and I truly tried to find a place to set-up the portable hide this past weekend, but never did. The weather may be playing a part right now as well.

I’ve always said that first thing in the morning was the best time to photograph birds, that’s when they are the most active, and the bonus is that you have good light.

Northern flicker

That was shot Sunday morning at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, shortly after I had arrived. However, let me back-up just a little. The first bird that I shot was this grey catbird.

Grey catbird carrying a berry to its young

I don’t know how they do it with their mouth full, but the catbird was squawking at me the entire time that I followed it around within the tree as it moved around.

Grey catbird carrying a berry to its young

I had only moved a few steps away from the catbird when the flicker landed in the same tree, slightly above the catbird, which was still squawking away.

Northern flicker

The flicker seemed to be very interested in what the catbird was doing, and it kept a close eye on the catbird.

Northern flicker

A very close eye.

Northern flicker

I don’t know if the flicker was trying to learn why the catbird was sounding the alarm, or if the flicker was interested in the berry that the catbird had. Flickers eat mostly ants, although they will eat berries at times, but they’re not aggressive birds that are known for stealing food from other birds.

I should have set-up the portable blind near that spot for I saw other species of birds in the same area. However, I wanted better images of the least bittern, so I made my way out to the boardwalk. I should mention that in a very rare event, I stopped at the picnic pavilion and didn’t see a single bird there. I can’t recall another time that there weren’t at least a few birds around there.

Anyway, I made it out to the boardwalk and early on, I shot better images of the least bittern as it flew past me.

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

But, I didn’t get the view that I really wanted. I tried sticking around, and I was able to shoot two more series of the bittern as it flew to or from its nest, but it stayed out of range of any good images.

I tried to keep myself amused by shooting a few of the other things that I saw…

Female yellow warbler

 

Purple loosestrife

 

Jewelweed

 

Jewelweed

 

Marsh wren

 

Marsh wren

 

Joe Pye weed about to bloom

But, I couldn’t make myself stick around in one spot that day. It may have been because I was seeing and photographing the same things as the week before, or it may have been because of what had happened the previous day. It was probably a combination of both.

I should explain what I had witnessed on Saturday that made it difficult to sit in one spot. As I said earlier, early morning is the best time to see birds. I’ve often joked that come early afternoon, all the birds are taking a siesta, and therefore it’s hard to find them. I may say that jokingly, but it’s the truth…

Lesser yellowlegs napping

…by early afternoon on most days, the birds are ready for a nap.

Lesser yellowlegs napping

Usually though, birds don’t nap out in the open like that, they prefer someplace more hidden. Secondly, on both Saturday and Sunday, the birds that didn’t have young to feed began their naps much earlier in the day, late morning rather than early afternoon. By noon on both days, it was tough to find a bird.

It wouldn’t have matter much anyway, as by noon on both days, the sun was heating the air enough to create major heat waves, meaning that any longer range shots I attempted would have been ruined like this one.

Red fox at noon

What the fox was doing out at that time of day, I have no idea. It must have known about the atmospheric conditions though, because it stood there and let me shoot away…

Red fox at noon

…and when it did start to move away, it even paused for a look back at me.

Red fox at noon

There it was out in the open for the first time of all the times I’ve seen one, and the heat waves coming up from the road ruined any chance of a sharp photo. A few hours earlier before the sun began beating down, and I would have had some great images to brag about.

That’s going to lead me to some boring talk about photographic equipment. It’s days like that which lessen my desire for an even longer lens than the ones that I already own. The results would have been just as bad or worse if I had been using one of the extremely long lenses that I can’t afford any way. I didn’t even bother trying the 2 X tele-converter, I could see the heat waves through the viewfinder and knew that going longer wouldn’t help.

The two long lenses that I’m using now, the 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 and the 400 mm f/5.6 work well enough when I can use them in tandem, as I do at the wastewater facility. The 100-400 mm lens focuses down close for the flowers that you saw above, and for shots like this…

Unidentified dragonfly

..although the 300 mm f/4 lens was better for extreme close-ups.

I can “make do” with the zoom lens for birds in flight with the correct camera and lens settings.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

I also shot the least bittern with the zoom lens.

However, I believe that the 400 mm prime lens is a tad sharper whether the subject is flying…

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

…or stationary.

Great blue heron

The 400 mm prime has a huge advantage over the 100-400 mm zoom lens for birds in flight, weight, the prime lens weighs about half of what the zoom lens does. I can’t maneuver the zoom lens around to keep up with small birds at all, and it’s more difficult when using it on larger birds as well. But, because the minimum focus distance of the 400 mm prime lens is 11 feet, I can’t get shots of flowers or insects with it the way that I can with the 100-400 mm zoom lens.

My indoor testing of the two lenses confirmed that on a tripod, or when there’s enough light to keep the shutter speed high enough, the 400 mm prime lens is sharper than the zoom lens. Part of that is the lack of Image Stabilization, fewer bits of glass between the subject and the camera’s sensor will almost always result in sharper images. And, because a zoom lens contain more bits of glass than a prime lens, zoom lenses seldom match the sharpness of a prime lens of equal quality in the first place.

But, I need the IS for shots like these, taken in deep shade at slower shutter speeds.

Cottontail rabbit

I went as low as 1/250 at 400 mm for these…

Cottontail rabbit

…and the IS is the reason that they’re as sharp as they are. You can even see the rabbits cute eyelashes in this one.

Cottontail rabbit

Sorry, I’m thinking through a few things right now pertaining to where I want to go with my photography in the future, so you’ll have to bear with me as I do.

The 7D Mk II is absolutely great when shooting action shots in good light…

Great blue heron in flight

…I have it set-up to track a subject even if other things appear in the frame as I’m following my intended subject.

Great blue heron landing in a marsh

There are two more photos from that series where the heron was even further down in the cattails, yet the 7D stayed locked onto the heron. But, you can barely see the heron, so I won’t include those. There are times when I wish that I didn’t have the 7D set to lock onto a subject as well as it does, when the camera locks onto the wrong part of a scene, it can be difficult for me to get it to let go and focus on what I want it to lock onto. However, being able to track a bird through vegetation or other obstructions, and fire off bursts when the bird comes clear of those obstructions is usually a very handy thing.

The last two photos are of the same heron, the first shot in full sunlight as the heron set its wings to make its landing. the second shot is after the heron had entered deep shade, and you can see how much that the image quality went down in the lower light. That’s the reason that I’m pining away for a full frame camera body.

Of course there’s no way that I could have switched camera bodies in that situation, there wasn’t enough time. However, the photos of the rabbit would have been even better if I had shot them with a full frame camera. But, I’ve said all of that before.

One problem that I have to solve is how do I carry even the bare minimum of camera gear that I’d like to have with me. I’d have much rather had the 400 mm prime lens with me for shooting photos of the least bittern in flight, but its minimum focusing distance precludes me from using it on small birds, flowers, or insects. The 100-400 mm lens is a much better choice as an all around lens, but I still feel the need to have the 400 mm prime lens with me for its sharpness and ability to catch birds in flight. Carrying both of them adds up to around ten pounds, which I can manage easily enough, but carrying two long lens set-ups is awkward at best.

I should also add that when I have both lenses available to me at the same time, I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the zoom lens to increase its focal length to 560 mm for more reach. That brings my subjects closer, but they almost have to be stationary. With the extender behind the lens, it slows down the auto-focus, and I can only use the center focusing point. That makes it almost impossible to shoot flying birds or any moving subject with the extender behind the lens.

When I get to the point when I am just sitting somewhere, I can carry one long set-up and pack the other one in a backpack, and get the second one out when I reach my destination. But, I’m not to that point yet, so I have to make do with the way that I’m doing things now I suppose. At the wastewater facility, I keep both of the long set-ups on the seat next to me, and grab the one that’s best for the subject at hand. But, I’m getting bored with visiting the same places shooting the same subjects all the time…

Least sandpipers in flight

…even if I try to find new ways to photograph them.

Part of the problem is that I’ve been slacking off as to the other subjects that I shoot. It’s almost all birds, all the time. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any landscapes for that matter. In the past, I used to mix things up more, a few landscapes, some historic buildings or other things that I saw, and so on. For the past year or two at least, it’s been nothing but birds for the most part.

I do love birds, and I love watching them, even the same species for quite a bit of the time.

Marsh wren on the prowl

 

Marsh wren on the prowl

 

Marsh wren on the prowl

However, I’ll bet that more than a few readers of my blog are tired of seeing the same few species all the time. It’s funny, I could lose myself for hours shooting photos of the marsh wrens as they go about their lives’, but I can’t stand in one spot for the same amount of time waiting to shoot photos of another subject. I also love it when I can update the posts in the My Photo Life List posts that I’ve already published with better images than when I first published the post. I usually get those better shots by hanging around in one place, observing the bird to learn more about it as much as photographing it.

Still, I’m feeling the desire to photograph subjects other than birds all of the time, with a few other subjects on the side. If I was to shoot just birds, I wish that I could do so when they were involved in behavior that lent itself better to story telling than what I’ve seen the past few weeks. It’s pretty bad when my best story is of a flicker watching a catbird intently.

Part of the restless feeling that I have is because I thought that this would be the year when I was finished purchasing any more photo gear for a while, and that I’d be able to travel around Michigan more than I have for the past few years. But, my health issues this spring and the large medical bill that I have to pay off mean that I’m stuck going to places close to home that don’t cost me very much. The good news is that I’ve already paid off one-quarter of the hospital bill that I ran up, the bad news is that it has been at the expense of going anywhere other than Muskegon on the weekends.

And, the question of whether I should wait until I have the best camera equipment suitable for what I’d like to photograph, or try to make do with what I have, always pops into my head. As I’ve explained and shown above, the gear that I’ve spent my money on so far is great, about the best that there is, for birds in particular, and wildlife in general.

Mourning dove in flight

 

Mourning dove in flight

I have a great macro lens, and I do reasonably well with it on either the 60D body, or one of the 7D bodies. But, I could do better with a full frame camera. That applies in spades to landscapes, a full frame camera would be so much better for them, along with better wide-angle lens(es) than I currently own. The point is, that I’ve sunk my money into gear best suited for birds, and that I therefore feel compelled to shoot birds because of that.

It doesn’t help that because of my current work schedule, I find it hard to be in a good spot for a landscape image around sunrise, which is my favorite time of day to shoot landscapes. I do like to get out as early as I can to catch the birds, but that makes for a very long day if I were to try for landscapes around sunset. I’ve also developed some OCD tendencies. I feel the need to download, sort, edit, rate, and add keywords to all of my images on the day that I shoot them. Part of that is wanting to get it done while my memory is still fresh, especially as far as identifying some of the birds that I shoot. I found that if I waited a day or two to add keywords, then I’d forget the exact time and place, along with the bird’s behavior, when I did go to add the keywords, which include the species of bird that the image is of. That was even worse if I shot more photos later, and then tried to get caught up with keeping my Lightroom catalog current. Trying to go through all the photos that I shoot in a weekend isn’t an easy task, and it’s made worse by a lack of time trying to do it in the few hours that I have after work each day.

I may have to give up photographing birds for a day or possibly for an entire weekend, and go out and shoot other subjects. There are some beautiful old churches in Grand Rapids that I could photograph, although they are in locations that make photographing them difficult. One sits right next to the expressway, which is elevated at that point. The best spot to photograph the church would be the expressway, but it wouldn’t be wise to stop and set-up my tripod and camera there. 🙂

Some of the rolling farmlands in the area would make good landscape photos, although they wouldn’t be the natural features that I’m more interested in photographing.

As you may be able to tell, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. My first love will always be nature photography, but there’s no reason that I have to limit myself as much as I have the last couple of years. Not only do I think about this while driving across the state every day for work, but also while I’m sitting and playing the waiting game for birds as well. I think about some of the buildings that I’d like to photograph, the scenes that catch my eye as I’m driving for work, and other possible photo subjects that come to mind. It’s hard to stay focused on waiting for a certain bird to appear when my mind is on other subjects that I’d just as soon be shooting.

This growing feeling that I have is also fueled by the photos that I see from other bloggers, and especially from the how-to videos that I watch on improving my Lightroom skills. While there may be an occasional wildlife image in these Lightroom how-to videos, the majority of the subjects that the presenter works on are of different subject matter. They shoot landscapes, still life images, urban landscapes, and many other things that I’d also like to shoot.

A side note here, if you watch the Lightroom how-to videos, you can also see what cameras and lenses that the professionals use as that information is often displayed in Lightroom. However, that information is only useful if you are shooting the same types of photos as the person making the Lightroom presentation.

Babbling on like this has helped me decide a couple of things. One, I am going to go on a day trip or two to shoot subjects other than birds. When I do that will be somewhat dependent on the weather, and if any rare birds are being reported near me or Muskegon. The camera gear that I have now may not be the absolute best for the subjects that I intend to shoot, but I can get by with it considering the nature of the images that I’ll be shooting.

Doing so will also help me decide once and for all which lenses that I’d like to have for a full frame camera body. I know that I’d like the Canon 24-105 mm lens for its versatility, that’s a given. But, I wonder if I’ll need a wider lens than that, and if so, how much wider? The 15-85 mm lens that I have on the crop sensor bodies that I have is equivalent to the 24-105 mm lens on a full frame sensor body. So, if I go out and shoot with the 15-85 mm lens on my crop sensor body, it will tell me if I need a wider lens on a full frame camera or not. If I do, I also have a 10-18 mm lens for my crop sensor body, and that’s about the same as a 16-35 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera. So, if I use that lens, it will tell me if I need to go even wider or not.

When it comes to wide-angle lenses, it isn’t only the amount of a scene that you can fit into the frame that matters. It’s also how much they distort the perspectives of size and distance. The wider the lens, the more it makes things up close look larger than things in the background, even if the things in the background are larger than what’s in the foreground. Wide-angle lenses also distort the distance between objects in the frame, making the objects appear farther apart than they really are. If you use that distortion of distance correctly, it adds depth to an image.

I’ve never used my wide-angle lenses enough to become skilled in their use, and I’ve said that before. I was improving my landscape photography quite a bit when I was shooting more landscapes, you know what they say, practice makes perfect. I’m afraid that as few landscapes as I’ve shot lately, it will be like starting over from scratch. So, I’d better get out there and shoot some before I’ve lost what little skill that I had.

I have purchased a filter that will allow me to shoot the solar eclipse later this month, and I put in a request to have the day off from work. We’ll see how that works.

I’ve also decided to purchase a photo printer soon, not that I plan on producing that many prints. But, by having my own printer, I can check my progress as a photographer more often than I can by waiting to send a batch of images to an outside lab to receive a volume discount. Most of the prints that I have had made were tests of the capabilities of the equipment that I have, more so than my best images overall. For example, I printed some images that I shot at night, even though they weren’t very interesting, just to see how much noise that appeared in the printed images. That’s the reason that I shot them in the first place, to test the long exposure noise reduction in my camera. If I branch out more as I hope to, then I should be able to shoot more interesting subjects, such as the Milky Way, and star trails.

Sorry for babbling on for so long once again. Hopefully, I’ll have images other than just birds for my next post, and a lot less talk of photo gear.

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


The waiting game

I said in my last post that I stood on the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for several hours waiting to get photos of the least bittern which I needed for the My Photo Life List that I’m working on. It didn’t used to be in my nature to stand in one spot like that, I’m the type of person that prefers to keep moving. There had been better lighting during one of my earlier visits to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I had seen the least bittern, but it flew past me as I was talking to some one that I see regularly there. So, he and I were chatting, and I didn’t notice the bittern approaching until it was too late for me to get a photo. I did however see where the bittern dove into the vegetation, and that gave me a few clues as to its behavior. I also walked up and down the boardwalk several times, shooting other subjects that I saw as I walked, but I wasn’t able to get the bittern.

Over the past year or so, instead of walking or driving around the places that I go, I tend to sit in one spot longer all the time. For one thing, there are spots within the places that I go where I find that I’m much more likely to get the photographs that I’d like to be able to get in those spots than moving from spot to spot and wasting time covering “unproductive” areas between. However, when I’m staying in one spot, I always have the feeling that I’m missing things that I’d otherwise see and be able to photograph.

Male American goldfinch

I have the feeling that I may be missing things because the truth is, I do miss things when I’m not moving. I know this because I see things happening in the distance out of camera range that I wish that I had been able to photograph, but there’s no way that I can be everywhere all the time.

The day when I stood in place waiting for the bittern was a very cloudy day, with fog and even a few sprinkles of rain at times. It wasn’t a good day for photography at all, except that the poor weather kept most people away from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, leaving it all to me alone. I thought that it would give me a good chance of catching the bittern, or any other critters that shy away from people. I have a photo to illustrate the weather that morning.

The B. C. Cobb power plant in Muskegon

That’s the B. C. Cobb power plant near Muskegon, a coal-fired plant that was decommissioned earlier this year, and is slated for demolition in the near future. You can also see the end of the boardwalk that runs through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and how it ends in an elevated viewing platform. The Muskegon River runs between the nature preserve and the power plant.

So, I was standing there waiting for the bittern when I spotted a bald eagle flying past…

Bald eagle in flight

…and even though it was out of range of a good photo, I shot a few photos of the eagle as it spiraled down.

Bald eagle in flight

What I can’t show you is the eagle diving down to the river and snatching a fish from the river. I could see the event happen through an opening in the cattails, but there’s no way that I could have gotten a focus lock on the eagle as it caught its lunch, darn!

Had I been out on the end of the boardwalk, I would have had a front-row seat of an event that I’d absolutely love to photograph. But then, I wouldn’t have gotten the poor photos of the bittern that I was able to shoot a few minutes later.

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve stood out there at the end of the boardwalk, hoping for something to happen such as the eagle fishing, but I usually see only gulls flying past, occasionally a tern perhaps, or an eagle at a higher altitude on its way to another location.

As it was, I amused myself by shooting other poor images of things that I saw while waiting for the bittern.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

Isn’t it amazing how the position of the heron’s wings makes the entire bird have a different look about it?

Wood ducks staying hidden

That’s as far out in the open as any of the family of wood ducks would come. If you look very closely at that photo, there are three wood ducks in the frame.

Muskrat working on its den

Because there were no other people there at the nature preserve, and because I was standing still most of the time, I was able to watch the wildlife there in action going about their business in a way that isn’t possible when the wildlife is on alert due to the presence of humans.

I knew that would be the case, it’s the reason that I purchased the portable hide earlier this year, although I still haven’t tested it out yet, I should do that soon. I can never decide where the best spot to just sit would be though, even though I’m learning the best spots within the places that I go.

Here’s another example.

Assorted wildflowers in bloom

That was shot along the road that runs back to one of my favorite spots to sit, the man-made lakes at the south end of the Muskegon County wastewater facility. The lakes are behind the trees in the far right of the frame, and there’s a line of cottonwood trees that always hold birds along the road up to the lakes. In addition, there’s a creek that crosses the fields that you can see in the image above, right at the far end of the line of cottonwood trees.

While I’m waiting for birds, or letting them settle down after some one else has driven down the road, I can shoot macros of the wildflowers you can see in the photo above, and insects that are attracted to the flowers.

Unidentified bee on a purple coneflower

After I had a good image of the bee, I was hoping that it would move to a different flower so as not to distract from the flower itself. But, the bee stayed put.

Unidentified bee on a purple coneflower

 

Purple coneflower

 

Purple coneflower

 

Unidentified flowering object

 

Unidentified flowering object

 

Teasel

 

Queen Anne’s lace

 

Viceroy butterfly

 

Viceroy butterfly

Along the line of cottonwood trees, I can shoot the birds that perch there.

American crow

 

American kestrel

 

Merlin

 

Merlin

 

Northern flicker

And, back at the man-made lakes, I can shoot the birds that I find there.

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

 

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret

Keen observers may notice that the egret is perched on the same tree as the juvenile green heron from my last post.

It’s about a quarter of a mile from where I shot the landscape photo of the wildflowers to where I sit at the man-made lake. So, when I think about sitting someplace along the road, I can never decide where the exact spot to sit for the best images would be. The spot from where I shot the egret above is where I set-up my tripod with the gimbal head on it a few weeks ago to shoot the swans in the man-made lake.

That would be a good spot to sit in my hide, but there’s a fence that blocks access to the lake to deal with, along with vegetation that grows between the lake and the fence that I have to shoot through openings in the vegetation to get the shots there that I do. That requires that I move around some, depending on where the subject happens to be. I’ve thought about going over the fence to get closer to the lake, it’s obvious that many other people have done that. However, because it’s a man-made lake dug out using a crane, the banks of the lake are too steep to set-up my tripod any closer to the lake than what the fence is.

The line of cottonwood trees almost always provide an opportunity for a photo or two, but it’s seldom the same tree, so I’d have a hard time choosing one or two trees to watch. If I were forced to sit someplace along the line of trees, it would be near the creek that flows at the end of the line of trees.

Juvenile raccoon

The raccoon’s mother and sibling had already moved back into the vegetation and out of sight by the time I got the camera ready.

And, if I set the hide up near the wildflowers, I’d probably end up with just a few more photos of the dickcissel that likes that spot.

Dickcissel

Going back to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I’d look like a fool setting up my tripod and portable hide on the boardwalk as dozens of people per day walked or rode their bikes past me as I sat in the hide. With my luck, one of the cyclists would plow into me and damage my camera and/or lens if I did try setting up there.

On the dry land portion of the preserve, the vegetation is so thick in most places that one can only see a few feet in any direction while sitting in one spot. It’s much easier to walk slowly along the trails there and look through openings in the vegetation to see and photograph the birds there.

Song sparrow

 

Brown thrasher

 

Brown thrasher

 

Cedar waxwing

The only clearing of any size there at the preserve is around the picnic pavilion, and I have sat at the picnic tables there to shoot some of the photos that I’ve taken there.

However, a strange phenomenon occurs whenever I try to get serious about photographing the birds from the picnic pavilion, no one uses the pavilion until I get set-up for some good photos. Of all the times that I’ve been to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I can only remember seeing two people at the pavilion when I arrived there, no matter what time of day it was. Those two people are Brian Johnson, whom I’ve mentioned in my blog before. He does his bird banding using the pavilion as his base of operations when banding birds. The other person is a woman who I bump into regularly, she’s a fellow nature photographer who will fill the bird feeders there at the preserve, then shoot photos of the birds as they come to the feeders. So, most of the time I have the pavilion to myself.

But it never seems to fail, if I bring all the gear I’d need to shoot some very good photos of the birds around the pavilion, then people decide that it’s time for a picnic, or to just sit and talk. If I take just one long lens and no tele-converter with me, then I can sit at the pavilion for hours and no one shows up there, other than to walk past on the trail there. I get a few good photos that way, but not as good as I could get if I were fully prepared with all the equipment required.

You may think that I’m being paranoid, and maybe I am, but I don’t think so. I’ll tell one story of what happened there at the pavilion. I arrived early in the morning, and taken both of my long lenses on both cameras, a wide-angle lens, and both tele-converters back to the pavilion. I had just gotten sat down, when four elderly people decided to have their morning coffee at the pavilion, so after a few minutes of listening to them chattering away, I moved on. They got up and followed me after just a minute or two. As slowly as I was walking, they stayed behind me, chattering away the entire time. So, I took a dead-end trail, and waited until they finally passed by. I then returned to the pavilion and began to get set-up again, and the four elderly people returned and sat down again, still chattering away. I gave up, and returned to my car, putting most of the gear away, as those four followed me, chattering the entire way. I half expected them to follow me back into the preserve, but they didn’t.

I’ve complained about the way that people behave in the past, but I’ve gotten tired of complaining about it. I still have people walk right in front of me as I’m trying to get a photo, and people who shout “What are you taking pictures of?” as I’m trying to shoot photos. So, I try to avoid people as much as I can when I’m out with my camera.

I had hoped to go searching for a really good place to get set-up in the portable hide, with all the gear that I’d need for good photos, but because of my health issues this spring, a lack of time, and wanting to avoid insect repellent for the summer, those plans have been put on hold for the time being.

I’ve heard that there used to be an elderly gentleman who would bring some sort of portable hide with him to the wastewater facility, and that he was able to shoot some fabulous photos that way. About this time last year, I spent a good portion of one day sitting on a large rock watching and photographing lesser yellowlegs in action and perched.

Two lesser yellowlegs fighting

Those are things that I keep in mind this year as I’m photographing the things that I see. There may well come a time when setting up the hide that I have at the wastewater facility is the way to get some even better images than the two yellowlegs fighting that I’ve just shared. I could get much better photos than that one this year since I have better lenses and I’ve learned how to take advantage of the power of the 7D Mk II.

I have been keeping my eyes and ears open, hoping to learn of a good place that I could go to set-up the hide, and the tripod with the gimbal head on it. I may not have used the portable hide yet, but from my limited use of the gimbal head, I know that using it more often would result in better images. However, I don’t want to turn this into another post of photography equipment and techniques.

I do have some spots in mind where I could make full use of the equipment that I have, under the right conditions. Once we get a hard frost, and the insect population falls off, then I’ll begin my search for a place where I can just sit and wait in earnest. Actually, I think that I’ll have to find several places, depending on the season of the year, time of day, and weather conditions. Probably the biggest item of the list of things that I need to find is a lack of people.

If I’m going to attempt to just sit in one spot, I don’t want other people walking or driving by at just the wrong time to spoil the opportunity. And, if I find a good quiet spot, I may well begin to shoot more videos of the things that I see. That’s when the gimbal head will be an essential thing to use, as it will allow me to produce videos that aren’t ruined by my inability to hold the camera absolutely steady as required for good video.

I’ve learned another trick to get better images when using the 2 X tele-converter on the slow lenses that I have, use live view focusing whenever I can.

Pectoral sandpiper

I won’t go into the reasons for that, but I know that if I were to use the tripod mounted gimbal head whenever I’m using the 2 X extender, and switch to live view focusing, then the quality of the images that I shoot will be better. But, only for still subjects, as live view focusing is slower than molasses in January when using the 2 X extender.

Well, I went back to the technical side of photography, I’m sorry, I can’t help it. When I’m thinking about places where I could set-up the portable hide and tripod with the gimbal head, then the photo equipment that I have, and how to get the best out of it, weighs heavily on the decisions that I make. It would be worthless to go to a place where every thing that I saw was out of range all of the time. And, knowing me, I know that I wouldn’t be able to sit still for very long if I weren’t getting at least an occasional image now and then.

There are limits as to how long I can play the waiting game.

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


The beauty of flight

Since before mankind began keeping records, we have been fascinated by birds in flight. I’m no different, I’m fascinated by the flight of birds as well, and this post will be mostly photos of birds in flight.

First, I’ll begin by saying that I have no idea why the number of some species of birds fluctuate the way that they do. Great blue herons are common here in Michigan, but over the last two previous years, I didn’t see many of them, and even had a hard time finding them. That isn’t the case this summer, they’re everywhere! I see mostly juveniles…

Juvenile great blue heron

…so the adults that remained from the past few years must have had a very successful breeding season this spring. That was one of the three head shots of three different herons that I shot in less than ten minutes time a couple of weeks ago. It’s rare for me to get that close to one, let alone three of them so quickly. It helped that they were chasing each other around which I supposed was part of their way of establishing the pecking order among themselves.  I have no idea if they were from the same nest or not though.

But, this post is about birds in flight, so I’m going to begin with this series that I shot at the local park where I walk when I have the chance.

American robin in flight

 

American robin in flight

 

American robin in flight

It’s much easier to shoot larger birds in flight, like this sandhill crane.

Sandhill crane in flight

I have no idea why the crane took off as far away from me as it did, normally they allow humans to get reasonably close to them. The result was the typical butt shots of a bird flying away from me, and not very good ones at that.

Sandhill crane in flight

Just a few minutes later, I was driving over a bridge across one of the drainage creeks when I saw a great blue heron flying along the creek. I was able to get set for the heron, and I fired these off as it turned away from me.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

The heron continued on, and so did I, but I didn’t shoot any more photos of it because it was flying away from me, and out of range of a good photo. It was going to perch in one of the aeration cells at the Muskegon wastewater facility that is under going major repairs. However, there was already an adult in that cell, and it didn’t take to the juvenile joining it in the same cell, even though each cell is several acres in size. The adult chased the juvenile off, and then I lucked out, it came flying straight towards me. I was able to get a good focus lock on it, and as it got as close to me as it came, I fired off this burst.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

If only there had been a better background than the aeration cell in those photos! Those aren’t cropped at all, I was able to keep the heron in the frame as it made its turn away from me. Every time that I get to shoot a series like that, I get a little better at it.

When it comes to small birds, you’d think that it would be easier to shoot a flock of them in flight…

Swallows in flight

…but then, they’re so close together that it’s hard to pick out just one.

I think that those are all juvenile tree swallows, as I saw a few adults in the flock at the time I shot those. However, I’m not positive about that, because of an event that you’ll see later in this post.

By the way, those were shot a couple of weeks ago. On the same day as I shot the great blue herons in flight, I stopped for a while at the man-made lake south of the wastewater facility proper. I was hoping to catch green herons in flight, but this was the best that I came up with.

Green heron in flight

There are a pair of adults and their young…

Juvenile green heron

…hanging out at the man-made lake most of the time, but they’re good at staying out of camera range the majority of the time.

There was also a flock of barn swallows hunting insects over the lake, and occasionally dipping down to drink from the lake as they flew. I couldn’t resist the challenge.

Barn swallow in flight

It suddenly slammed on the air-brakes…

Barn swallow in flight

…and I think that it caught a flying insect…

Barn swallow in flight

…but you can’t see the insect in these images.

Barn swallow in flight

The swallow then went on its way.

Barn swallow in flight

I tried to get a shot of them drinking from the lake as they flew…

Barn swallow in flight

…but I missed it every time.

Barn swallow in flight

I did get a good reflection shot or two…

Barn swallow in flight

…before the swallows would gain altitude again.

Barn swallow in flight

 

Barn swallow in flight

 

Barn swallow in flight

 

Barn swallow in flight

The best part of those is that you can see how they use their tails for both drag to slow down, and for turning as sharply as they do.

Now then, back to flocks of swallows. I noticed a flock of tree swallows in a dead tree, they were coming and going as they paused to rest and digest the insects that they had caught. It seemed like a good place to hang out and try for a better image of a swallow in flight, so I did. However, the first swallow I shot wasn’t a tree swallow, it was a barn swallow…

Barn swallow in flight

…and as it approached the tree swallows…

Barn swallow in flight

…they exchanged a few words before the barn swallow perched in the same tree.

Barn swallow in flight passing a perched tree swallow

It was then that I noticed that there were a few other barn swallows mixed in with the flock of predominantly tree swallows. They were all chattering away, I wonder if the tree swallows and barn swallows understand each other’s chattering? I also wonder if in the chattering within one species if they are telling each other where the best insects are to be found, or if it’s part of social bonding, or part of establishing the pecking order within the flock? Occasionally, an adult would chase one of the juveniles off from the perch the juvenile had been on, but it happened behind tree branches whenever I attempted to photograph that behavior.

Since most of the photos have been of birds in flight, I suppose that it’s fitting that the latest species that I can cross off from the list for the My Photo Life List project is a least bittern in flight.

Least bittern in flight

They’re not great, but at least you can identify the species, which is all that matters. I got these by standing in one spot on the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for several hours. The bittern made the mistake of flying about the same path each time it came and went from where I believe that it has its nest.

Least bittern in flight

Smaller but chunkier than their cousins the green herons, they fly surprisingly fast for a member of the heron family. This one at least stayed just above the vegetation most of the time, making it even harder to spot and photograph.

I’m going to finish this post with three images of a bird not flying. It’s a juvenile grasshopper sparrow limbering up its wings…

Juvenile grasshopper sparrow

…it had made a rough landing on the dead stump it was perched on…

Juvenile grasshopper sparrow

…and I believe that it was doing some stationary practice before its next attempt at flight.

Juvenile grasshopper sparrow

Well, that wraps up this post, sorry for so many photos of the swallows, but I love the challenge of trying to photograph birds as quick as they are.

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