Monday, May 09, 2016

'tis the season...

This certainly is the season for outdoor photography. Birds, wildlife, landscapes, flowers, people coming out of hibernation. So get out there and enjoy it.

I need to take my own advice. I've been terribly one-dimensional lately but I have to admit that I'm fascinated by bird photography. I'll make an effort to include other genres in this blog so I'm not boring everyone and I'm also going to get out and shoot other stuff. Since I got the Tamron 150-600mm lens, I don't think my Nikon 70-200 has been on the camera more than a couple of times. Gawd, it's the sharpest lens I own! That and my 105mm macro. So I will make the effort. Stick around!

Photo Fads

If you hang out on Social Media at all, especially the Photoshop groups, you'll have noticed how there are fads in photography. For example, there was the "Twirl" — someone figured out how to do a kaleidoscope-like manipulation in Photoshop and suddenly dozens of people were doing it (to the point where some were calling for a ban in the Photoshop and Lightroom group!). "Frequency Separation" is suddenly THE technique for skin softening, everyone's trying it. Lately there's been "Big Eyes", now everyone's doing that (use the Liquify tool in Photoshop. Reminds me of people painting Elvis on black velvet 50 years ago!).

It's also what happened in the nature groups. Last year, a couple of people posted pictures of Snowy Owls, now everyone says, "me too!". Then it was foxes. And Pine Martens. And moose. Aurora Borealis. The Milky Way. Star trails. It's hard not to follow suit: nothing wrong with it, you see a technique, want to try it and show the results. But how do you avoid just being a sheep? I wonder what the next fad will be?

"WOW" image

I follow Vincent Versace on Facebook. He is a photographer and a teacher extraordinaire and a Nikon Ambassador (come on, Canon people, I admire great Canon photographers like, um, like... I'll get back to you on that!). Search for him on FB and look on his timeline for the picture of the raging waters coming over the road in Havana, Cuba from April 26th. [I won't post other people's pictures on my blog, certainly not without specific permission]. It has every "wow" element I strive for in my landscapes. Come on folks, you don't expect ME to do all the work! Research it.

Oh, all right. Here's the link:

I do want to quote what he said about the Nikon D5, four days into shooting with it:
'There is no image I cannot capture. The ability of this camera to shoot in lighting conditions so dark that you have to [imagine] that there is light to provide illumination. Spot on color, speed touch screen focus in live view. Whoa.....' 
The D5 can shoot up in the millions range of ISO, which is, I suspect, not what most people will do but by derivation allows it to shoot ridiculous quality at ISO's like 6400 or more. Imagine being able to do an exhibition quality hummingbird shot at 1/8000 sec @ f/8 on a cloudy day...

Last week, I said my first stop after picking up my lottery winnings would be the Swarovski store for that outstanding spotting scope, my second stop would be the Nikon store for a D5. Imagine that optic on that camera! Sadly, the probability that will happen has too many zeroes between the decimal point and the first significant digit.


As I read about the Nikon D5 and muse about better and better lenses and optics, I wonder when enough is enough. I remember when I bought the D800, I said that would be the end of the line for me. I thought the same when I got my Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR. I discovered that wasn't good enough for birding, so I added the Tamron 150-600. It does the job. National Geographic quality? No, but good enough. The other day, I found something that I could not do with it: I couldn't take a sharp picture of a Loggerhead Shrike on a bush 200 or 300 meters away. I wanted that 500mm f/4.

That's what happens when you push the edge of the envelope. I have to ask myself, "would having all that new stuff make me a better photographer?" No it won't. It would enable me to shoot in situations that I can't right now but it won't make me better at what I do. If I were a portrait photographer, would a D5, with its crazy 3 Million ISO and 12 fps give me better results? No, not really. What would? Understanding lighting better and how to relate to people.

Ask yourself the same questions but substitute the genre you prefer to shoot. What would make me a better [landscape, wildlife, street, macro, travel, astro, studio...] photographer? Sure. You have to have a certain minimum set of equipment. And no, your iPhone or point-and-shoot isn't going to do that for you, unless all you aspire to is to be a snapshot photographer. So it comes down to deciding what you want to be when you grow up.

My problem is, I want to be able to do it all. Two years ago, I shot landscapes. Now I'm kinda into birding (for which, I admit, you really do need one of those $5digit lenses). And astrophotography. To do either of those things and stand shoulder to shoulder with the experts, I would need some specialized equipment. At what point do I have to say, "Enough!"? How about stretching to learn more about how to shoot those genres with what I have?

I can't carry all the equipment I have even now. My gear is divided into 3 bags. When I go out, I have to ask myself, "what should I take with me today?". And as I get older and more arthritic and more out of shape, everything gets heavier and heavier. Can you say "mirrorless"? Not yet...

So I've decided that the D800 is enough for me. Unless it breaks, of course, at which point I have to decide what to replace it with. Maybe that's when I'll go mirrorless. It's time to learn how to use what I already have, to take better pictures by using my eye and my mind, not new hardware. So I won't shoot motion-compensated photographs of obscure galaxies. I'm just going to get better at what I already do.

Algonquin Park

I decided to head up to the Park last Tuesday, well, just "because". People have been posting pictures of moose and I wanted to get my share! I got to wear the camo's I bought at Cabela's a couple of months ago (I wear them at Carden Plain as well; the pants are Goretex and tick-proof!)

The Pine Martens didn't show up at Mew Lake so I killed time shooting a couple of "selfie's". 

I had two moose encounters, one on the way into the park and the other on the way out later in the afternoon.

This young bull was enjoying the salty runoff water beside Highway 60.

This cow was accompanied by a calf. Her coat was rather scruffy, you can see some winter ticks still in position. Her coat looks like that partly because she scraped it off to rid herself of the ticks and partly because moose shed their winter coats and grow summer ones in the spring. She was a bit more shy; or had been driven away from the roadside by a seemingly endless gaggle of tourists. I was amazed by the people who took iPhone or iPad pictures from the roadside and expected them to come out. This shot was at 600mm and cropped to about half the frame.

There are birds in Algonquin Park too. Here's a yellow-rumped warbler and a great blue heron that I saw.

It's not all wildlife, though. Here's the Costello Creek pond on Opeongo Road. Only thing missing was a red canoe! Actually there was a yellow one there, but they were behind the rock and headed the other way.

You don't have to go so far, though...

I shot these pictures at my feeder a couple of days later. I saw at least half a dozen species! I had just installed the "Merlin" birding app on my phone and just for fun, started playing some of the songs of different species. I started with the Rose-breasted grosbeak and about 2 minutes later, this guy and his family showed up!

Rose-breasted grosbeak with attitude! 

American Goldfinch. A whole flock of these showed up and they seem to like the calls on my iPhone. Whenever I stepped outside to shoot them, they'd fly away. Playing the calls made them stick around long enough for a photo. There were so many of them that they emptied my feeder all by themselves in a couple of hours. Must have been a dozen or more!

Pretty sure it's a white-throated sparrow 

Chipping Sparrow. 

Carden Plain

I was there again on Friday morning. Kathy met me there and loves the place. Somehow she sees birds that I can't!

The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike was there again. A little closer this time but we couldn't get him to turn around for a portrait:

Here's a Meadowlark singing on a rock. I think the iPhone call helped bring him in closer. 

Normally they sit further away. This guy was about 200m away and this is cropped from a 600mm shot. I like it because it says something about the environment in which the bird lives. 

Same thing is true of this Savannah Sparrow. I could have cropped it vertically but I like the story the branches tell. I couldn't get him to turn around and look the other way, but that's OK: (1) rules are made to be broken and (2) I like the light on his face. 

As I continued along Rte. 6, just before crossing the Trent-Severn Canal, I saw this Osprey eating a fish on top of a hydro pole. I have a few shots with the fish, but none as compelling as this closeup! 

It's Trillium Time

A little later than usual but they are here. Not in full force yet, but they're out at the Minden Wildwater Preserve. 

The other day I learned something new about my flash. A while ago my Nikon SB-600 flash died and I replaced it with a Yongnuo YN568EX. Reading the manual (and interpreting the transliterated English!) I learned that it will sync with any shutter speed. Interesting: the Nikon flash only went to 1/320 second with the D800. 
What's the significance? When you use the flash, you are mixing two light sources: the strobe and the ambient light. There are a bunch of ways of controlling the effect of the strobe light (normally aperture, but when you're in iTTL mode it's really exposure compensation), but the way to control the ambient light is with shutter speed (or sometimes ISO). 

This is a normal image that uses both ambient and flash light 

And this shot was taken at 1/1600 second, effectively eliminating the ambient.
The other advantage of high shutter speed is to stop motion, for example, hummingbird wings. I'll be experimenting with this feature.

This is a complex image. Four exposures were focus-stacked to produce the sharp Trillium, and then I swapped out the background with the texture from a nearby rock. Finally, Topaz Impression was used to create the painterly effect. 

And finally, here's the shot I liked best from today. 

The flash made the petals translucent so you can see the leaf through them.  

By the way, all of these trillium pictures were taken from ground level. It's worth the effort to get down and dirty.

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