Joseph V Higbee.com P & M Intro

Photos and Musings

Volume Three

Page 5
July 16, 2011

Shadows; Good or Bad?

Western Tanager

This photo well illustrates an opinion of mine concerning shadows. I like shadows. I usually don't like photos taken in gray weather or even in full shade. I don't like many photos that are taken in full sunlight, even soft sunlight, if there are no shadows. I don't want the shadows to be so deep they hide the detail, but just enough to add a gentle contrast
   In this photo the feather detail is good in both shadow and sun, something the GH2 did very well. I like the shaded background on one side and the brightly lit flowers on the other. It doesn't highlight the bird as if were all alone but puts it into a recognizable habitat.
   I'm not saying that the subject needs to be shaded as this one is, only that there needs to be something to offset the brightness. Maybe the birds shadow, or a lightly shadowed background, something to add contrast. Gentle contrast.
   I have sold the Panasonic GH2 and all lenses and accessories. After using the system for 6 months, I decided I wanted to go back to an SLR system. Some of what I had previously, and sold, had never been real satisfying to use, exceptions being the 500mm and the 7D, so I used this as an opportunity to try some new on the market versions of 70-200mm lens and 2x extender. I purchased a 60D which, even though a cheaper camera, does have the sensor like the 7D. I like what this combination is doing for me at this point. Much cleaner than anything I have had before, even the 500mm f4. Doesn't have a long focal length though, maxing out at 400mm. This is not a bad thing but fits well with what I will be trying to accomplish going forward. More on that another time.

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July 21, 2011

It's Working!

Northern Harrier

In 2003 I was using a 10D and a 100-400mm f5.6 lens, hand held. I wasn't taking too many sharp photos. But it was so nice to be able to have the camera/lens in my hand ready to point any direction without stopping, setting the tripod, loosening the knobs, adjusting for height if a real low or a real high shot and finally pointing the camera and taking a photo if it was still there to be taken. As most photographers do, I learned to accomplish all this rather quickly in order to have sharper photos but have always yearned for a handheld setup that would work.
   Once I started using a tripod I soon graduated to a larger lens and using it handheld for anything but a brief moment was out of the question. After a few years it got heavier and the old urge to handhold something lighter re-asserted itself. I tried the 300mm f4 with and without a 1.4x extender and the 100-400mm f5.6 again with the newer faster focusing cameras. Same old problem, fuzzy photos. Except on very bright sunny days. And even then moving objects were never quite sharp.
   Enter the Panasonic GH2. A neat little camera and an exciting system to see developing but for what I was wanting to do it is not quite there yet. So back to the SLR and the search for the hand-holdable combination. Presently that is a 60D, much faster and more accurate focus than the old 10D, and the new 70-200mm f2.8 lens with the new 2x extender, both much sharper than previous models.
   As I noted in the heading, it is working. It would work better with the 7D but I am going to wait for the next model in that group or go with the pro camera when it is upgraded, decision to be made later. In the meantime I can still walk along taking photos of birds in bushes and when a bird like this Northern Harrier flies over, just point and shoot.

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August 5, 2011

A Project

Framework for photoblind

I haven't felt like doing a lot of driving this year and have been spending quite a bit of time in the yard. In between photographing the birds, I've been doing maintenance and planning and planting to attract even more. While doing these things I've been thinking about ways to get better photos, of course. A blind is an obvious answer but the one I purchased is too large and awkward to position to the best advantage. It is also too hard to move, requiring partial collapse and reset to do so around the plantings even though I have left fairly wide accesses to desired locations.
   The answer is to 'build to suit' as they say in the housing industry. The photo here is the framework I have designed and built. It is designed for one specific location but is light enough to easily be moved should I want. There are about three locations where it could be used, but the main location covers most of the area. The time of day and angle of the sun would be the reason for using it elsewhere.
   It will be covered with nylon camo fabric, the roof section being waterproof. The windows will have full removeable curtains as well as various pieces of fabric for covering parts of the opening. The angled side is the entrance and will have a curtain that closes. The inside of the fabric will be lightly sprayed with flat black paint as the frame is.
   Inside it will have a swivel secretary chair. It will not accommodate a tripod but should work well with a monopod or handheld. Inasmuch as the distance is short and the birds move quickly, I suspect the handheld to be used most. Once it is complete and in place, I shall post a photo and report on goods and bads.

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August 13, 2011

I Wish More Were Like This

Female Yellow Warbler

This photo on the left is probably as close to being my ideal as any I have. There are several reasons I have not had very many like it. Some of those relate to equipment, some to experience and some to opportunity.
   Usually, the major difference between a photo that is okay and one that is really okay is the experience of the photographer. A good photographer will get good photos with most equipment, as the old saw goes. True enough but a good photographer will get better photos if he is using better equipment and no photos if he sits in the chair and dreams about it. The fact is, the reason this picture is closer to my ideal than most others is mostly due to equipment, a 60D and a 70-200mm f2.8 lens with a 2X extender that makes it effectively a 140-400mm f5.6 focal length.
   A couple musings back I mentioned that "in 2003 I was using a 10D and a 100-400mm f5.6 lens". The picture on the right is one taken then. Let's start by talking about the difference in what you don't see in the left one. The background is pleasingly blurred with no out of focus but distinguishable limbs, twigs, leaves or other items to distract ones attention. Warbling VireoIn both photos the subject, the bird, is well focused but in the newer one the the immediate habitat is also crisp enough to add something. The other loses focus quickly and even the closer habitat becomes a distraction. The newer scene was taken at 2/3 stop less bias but the older one has had some noise reduction in processing and still is more grainy. The difference in resolution, 18mp vs 6mp, is also obvious in the newer photo, as is the sharpness, even though the newer combination includes a 2X extender, until recently a real 'spoiler'. Both lenses were 'wide open' giving an equal f5.6 focal length.
   Opportunities are opportunities however they come about and without them there is no photo. The vireo was alongside a river in a campground and I was locked and loaded and looking for him. He wasn't moving too fast and I was handholding the camera, an opportunity. The warbler was in my yard over a water feature I built, in shrubbery I planted to attract birds, on a perch I carefully placed in amongst the shrubbery. I was a few feet away in my blind sitting on a swivel chair. I was probably handholding, a preference when reasonably possible. There isn't room in the blind for a tripod anyway, although I do use a monopod when needed. A different type of opportunity.
   So what about experience? Did it have much to do with achieving my close to ideal photo? You bet! The choice of equipment didn't come without learning what didn't work and what did. That learning didn't come cheap or easy. I spent time and money chasing all over looking for opportunities, and still do. But experience has taught me to let what birds will, come to me. After all, they can fly. Otherwise, just about anyone using my present equipment and willing to sit quietly in the blind until the opportunity presented itself could equal or better my almost ideal photo. Although 15-20 minutes practice might help.

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August 29, 2011

A Project Finished

Photoblind

Well, mostly finished anyway. I have some more of the darker fabric on order and will replace the entry and windows so they match when it gets here. Otherwise, it is in place and fully functional. I have used it only briefly at this point but everything seems as planned. The swivel chair is everything I thought and the casters even allow some repositioning I hadn't thought about but find most convenient. The fabric is waterproof and has a black coating inside making it harder for the birds to see inside. I even had a nuthatch fly in and circle my head before flying back out. I don't know which of us was more startled.
   My wife and I have been married 53 years yesterday. Now that I'm staying home so much more, this will help to insure the streak continues. I can be an awful nuisance at times! She doesn't take photos so she is quite content to watch the birds with binoculars from the living room.
   We are planning a few days checking out some spots in Oregon in a couple weeks. Our turn-around point will be at Lake Albert in the south-central area. I understand some species of shorebirds can be seen there in the tens of thousands. I have to see it for myself, it's too hard to imagine. It should be a good test of my determination to 'get by' without a super-telephoto lens. Several things I want to experiment with, including video, if conditions permit. Expect a report here about Sept. 20.

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September 19, 2011

What lens to start?

Wandering Tattler

Many times a person wanting to become a serious amateur photographer will ask, "What lens should I buy first?". For Canon cameras the usual answer, and the one I have given for the last several years has been, "If I could only have one lens it would be the 'EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM'". Until now it has been the most versatile high-quality lens in the Canon line-up, giving an acceptable image under a variety of conditions. While prime, single focal length, lenses will usually give even better quality photos, it takes several to cover the range and at much higher cost.
   Another lens often suggested was the 'EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM', an excellent lens in itself but when used with the 'EF 2x II' extender neccesary to equal the range of the EF 100-400mm the quality was a mite less.
   But from hence forth my answer to the question above will be; Even if you have to borrow the money to pay the 40% higher cost, don't settle for anything but the new 'EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM' and the new 'Extender EF 2x III'!! Unlike the EF 100-400mm, this combo loves to be handheld, producing remarkably sharp and clean images even in the poorest of light. The bokeh, or background blur, is very pleasing, not often the case with the EF 100-400mm. Other comparisons can be made but they all fall positive on the side of this new combo. And the quality, I believe, is better at all focal lengths than any comparative lens available today.
   There are, of course, many other things to consider when choosing camera and lens combinations, but for myself, this lens/extender combo covers everything in it's range and does it exceedingly well.

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September 29, 2011

Wherezitat??

Black-tailed Gull and friends

This photo is approximately what you see looking through 8X binoculars at the gulls on the closest logs in the boom where the Black-tailed Gull is currently being seen in Tacoma. He is in fact in this photo and those familiar with it may even be able to pick it out.(click on photo for larger view) Hint: it is on the lower log just to the right of center.
   This photo was taken with at 400mm focal length, not enough to even produce a fair photo crop. With the bright weather, I was able to get a few fair crops by adding a second 'doubler' for 800mm focal length.(see Photo Gallery link above) This time I really wished I still had the 500mm to stack the extenders on.
   But the day was saved with some fairly good, for me, video. The Canon 60D has a cropped video mode that, while a little fuzzy, allows some close-up views even with the 400mm focal length. Using that mode I was able to get some video of our visitor moving around some. For that, see the Video Gallery link above.

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October 4, 2011

New Versions of Old Favorites

Steller's Jay

As I write this I'm listening to some newly downloaded, remastered versions of some old songs by one of my favorite singers during the 40's, 50's and 60's. Many of these songs I had on LP's purchased in the 60's but haven't heard since I stored them years ago. Some I never had due to budget constraints during those years. One of the wonderful things of the digital age is the re-appearance of these old favorites and at prices that are quite affordable using the various download services.
   As I listen I think of the newer versions of these old favorites by other, newer artists. Some of those are very good but it isn't often I like a newer version, or artist, better than the old. With photographs it's a little different but not entirely; very few photographers of old couldn't have their original offerings improved digitally. And quite often new artists make new images of the same subjects but not always are they as pleasing as the older version. The artist is the difference, advancement in equipment notwithstanding.
   I could go several directions from here with this discussion. But let me just remark on my photo, a bird I've known almost all my days, or at least his ancestors. An old favorite. This was taken with with a new 7D, a replacement for the one I sold during my 9 months of insanity over this past year. Better and newer versions are coming but I missed it too badly to wait. Now if they hadn't raised the prices on the new long lenses quite out of my reach. I guess I'll just have to become a better artist. For sure I'll have to work harder.

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October 15, 2011

An Old Question

Palouse in August

That old question was, "Why not sell?". I wrote quite a bit about why not on a page in Volume One of Photos and Musings. Most of those reasons are still valid.
   What I didn't write about is the desire for recognition that seems to be inherent in mankind. Many of the things we do, we do whether they are recognized or not. Day to day living requires us to do a wide variety of things without much regard to anything other than the necessity of their being done. But even then, it is gratifying if someone notices when we have done well. When we go beyond those mundane things and seek to express ourselves creatively, it becomes even more meaningful if our work is valued by others. We can give it away, and we do to those close to us, but selling something does give it a value and that is a consideration. If it can be sold for more than it costs to produce!
   The picture here is one of a series of three photo collages of the Palouse area as viewed from Steptoe Butte. Someday I would hope to have 12 collages in this series, one for each month. Presently I have five, each one representing at least one 600 mile round trip from my home. A fair sized expense. The field equipment needed totals about $5000, a modest investment. The production equipment, computer, printer and mat cutter, about $3500 for good quality, low production use. Material such as paper, ink, white mat and mounting items runs about $15+/- for a 16x20 inch print. A little calculating shows I would have to sell about ten of each, or 120 ready to frame pictures for around $100 each plus shipping and handling cost to break even.
   Add in marketing costs, which I can't even guesstimate, plus a little for my labors, and you can see why I post my photos on the web for anyone to view free of charge. That makes me a good guy and I quess that's enough recognition for something I like to do anyway!

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October 30, 2011

I Don't Get It!!

Oregon Junco

Over the past year or so I have proved beyond doubt that I don't always know what I'm doing. That doesn't bother me, most everything I ever learned was something I didn't know before. Therefore, when I see things done, or not, by others, be they little monkeys or large gorillas, I recognize the failure to understand everything is probably my own. Lately, though, it's gotten to where I feel I'm from another planet when it comes to changes in the camera industry.
   I may end up writing a 'short subject' about some that are beyond my understanding but one is puzzling enough to mention here. It involves the just announced Canon EOS-1D X and it's lack of ability to auto-focus with an f8 lens combination. They could change this before it goes into production but it isn't likely.
   For those that aren't aware, Canon Pro digital cameras have always been able to auto-focus with a 2X extender and an f4 lens attached, an f8 combination. The less than Pro cameras have always had an f5.6 limitation. Lately, Canon has come out with a new series 2X extender that is much sharper than previous models and it has additional circuitry built in to cause it to work even better with the newest models of super telephoto lenses, most of which are f4. If you have, and keep, an older model 1D and can afford the new lenses, this could be huge. However, on the new 1D X, which has more bells and whistles than Tootle, it won't work. One of those 'bells' or features is an ISO capacity that would seem made for these long combinations, but it won't work.
   Actually, to many of us, it no longer matters. There are a lot of people like me who have scraped up the money to buy this type of equipment in the past. Lately every new high quality camera and lens has seen an enormous jump in price, putting them well out of reach of many.
   What I have written here is just a small part of what I have noticed lately in the industry. It's almost as if everything has happened so quickly there is no longer a clear picture of where it is, let alone where it's going. Maybe, in time, I will understand. Maybe not.

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November 11, 2011

Another Day, Another Time

Steller's Jay

It would be a shame not to post something on a date that can be expressed '11/11/11'. And it seems only right to use a photo taken on that date. Thankfully, newer cameras with their ability to take photos with relatively low amounts of noise, or graininess, coupled with very good photo editing software, make it comparatively easy to do so even on a typical dark November day in the Pacific Northwest. Ten years ago, say in 1/1/1, it would have been possible but certainly not easy.
   In fact, it's amazing how many things we are able to do these days that were harder, or even impossible, a few years ago. If you are twenty years old or under you have grown up with cell phones, ipods, digital cameras and computerized everything. If you are thirty you are probably becoming aware that some of these things didn't always exist. If you are fifty you went to school when a handheld calculator was less common than today's computer and a transistor radio was the epitome of portable noise, oops, tunes.
   If you are seventy or older as I am, you probably grew up thinking most of these things were science fiction and would never really happen and, if they did, they probably wouldn't be good for humanity anyway. I still feel I may have been half right. That isn't to say I don't use and appreciate most of the inventions of the electronic/digital age. But I remember when they were not.

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November 25, 2011

A Nice Day

White-winged Scoter

Earlier this month I bought a '98 Totota minivan in excellent condition, having only 79900 miles on the clock. Since then I have been under the weather and the weather has been miserable. Today the sun came out and I decided I should dutifully visit my mother. Mom is 91 years old and a little slow to get going so I took the camera and spent some time along the sound around Port Orchard.
   The minivan is like having a new one. In fact, I think it is more satisfying than any of the half dozen or so new cars I have had. That made the thirty some miles between here and there a nice trip.
   I had the new 7D camera with the 70-200mm lens and 2x extender on an over the shoulder strap. No tripod, no extras, just the single handheld setup. It did what I wanted with no strain on me or it. I compared the photos I got with some I took previously with the 500mm lens and tripod (spell heavy) and I believe these are better. A very nice outcome.
   I had a really nice visit with my mother. She is still very sharp and remembers things better than I do. Seems like I've known her all my life. I have, of course, and in fact have known her most of her life. Even so, I think she has some secrets from me!
   Yes, it was a nice day, even a very nice day.

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