Joseph V Higbee.com P & M Intro

Photos and Musings

Volume Three

Page 7
May 16, 2012

Some Background Thoughts

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The current trend in bird photography is toward what I describe as 'bird guide' photos. The ideal is to be on as close to a level plane to the bird as possible with little or no recognizable background. Also, little or nothing in the foreground, especially not in front of the bird, and shadows on the bird are definately 'no-no'. Feather detail is of paramount importance in this kind of photo.
   To these ends, one noted professional photographer insists the sun must always be on his back while another feels that good shorebird photos can only be had by laying prone on the beach. The longest focal length telephoto lens available is usually the lens of choice. Indeed, such efforts do gain the finest of such photos.
   But there are other kinds of bird photography and, to be honest, the photographers mentioned above also excel at those, even though they tend to favor the 'bird guide' look. For me, however, it has been hard to learn something new. For most of the past ten years I have concentrated on the discipline described above. Deciding I was in a rut, I tried to put more into the photos than just the bird. It was hard to do. Part of the reason for selling my 500mm lens was to break the 'close-up' habit. And now, even with a short lens, I tend to try to get in closer for a 'tighter' shot.
   But, finally, on this recent trip into the open spaces of south-eastern Idaho, I was able to work on taking photos of birds in their habitat. I have a way to go before I understand and can accomplish the intricacies of this type photo but I think I see the path. The shorter lens forced me see things differently and it's that 'seeing' more than the size of the lens that makes the picture.

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May 23, 2012

There Are Times............

Distant Snowy Egrets

Yes, there are times when a looong lens is a definate advantage. These two photos are examples of such times. Both are cropped to about the size that an 800mm lens would have captured. The larger lens would, of course, be clearer and better detailed and could be cropped to a tighter view without losing anything whereas these would be entirely worthless if cropped smaller.
   This was as close as I could get to the Snowy Egrets but at times they were quite visible and very active which could have produced some great photos with more lenspower. Because I was at this location due to the Snowy Egret known to breed there, it was disappointing to come up 'short'.
   Even a 300mm lens with a 2X extender, netting 600mm, may have saved the day. That combo would split the difference between my current 400mm and the 800mm I would like to have had.

Swan seeming to chase goose

The photo of the swan and goose took place as I was watching the egrets. If I had been using an 800mm lens, it would have been in place and used for it also.
   While it would be nice to have both sizes of lens available, there is still the matter of which one is at hand when 'the event' happens. I previously had both long and shorter lenses but found myself wedded to the longer one. In my previous musing, 'Some Background Thoughts', I explained my reasons for my current setup. And those reasons are valid, to a point.
   However, if I could have the discipline to use the smaller lens primarily and the longer lens for the times when nothing less will work, it would be nice to have both. Whether circumstances will allow me to test that discipline remains to be seen. The current trend in pricing on lenses may well have put them beyond reasonable consideration.

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June 7, 2012

The Story

White-crowned Sparrow

If a picture is going to be worth a thousand words, it needs to have something to say; a story. Sometimes the story is going to be about something specific while at other times the story will be broad and far-reaching, even having more to say each time it is viewed. Both of these stories, and everything in between, are worth telling. Whatever effort the photographer puts into making the picture 'speak' clearly will make for a more beneficial and enjoyable experience for the viewer.
   In my next-to-last post I made reference to the type of picture I call a 'bird guide' photo. The White-crowned Sparrow shown here, even though missing the tip of it's tail, will serve to illustrate my point. What's the story? In this case, it's very specific. The bird itself; it's markings, the feather detail, the shapes, sizes and colors of various parts of the bird saying simply 'I am a White-crowned Sparrow'. Exactly what you want if you have seen one clearly and want a comparison for identification.

Black-headed Grosbeak

The Black-headed Grosbeak on the left is also quite specific but a little less so and it does broaden the story a little. The details mentioned above are still clear enough but now there is some distraction, as some would see it. While they can take a little emphasis away from the bird, the leaves also add to the story. They tell a viewer that this bird may be seen in a tree. In either case, the story is, as I said, quite specific. Anything we add is going to change the story and will change the emphasis. The subject can still be the same, the bird, but where it is, what it's doing, or even what type of company it keeps will become the emphasis. More words will be added to the story.
   In my last post, I was lamenting not having a better quality photo and there were several I trashed that would have told wonderful stories. I have seen my share of really nice Snowy Egret photos, but never in this habitat or interacting as these were. My regret wasn't that I couldn't remove more of that habitat but that I couldn't tell the story I had seen.
   The truth is; I still wasn't 'seeing' what I was looking at. The fact that I didn't have too much lens may have been a blessing in this instance. Not because I couldn't have gotten the story better but because I may not have realized what the story was. Most likely I would have tried to get too 'tight' and missed much of what was happening as I did so many times before when I was tied to my longer lens.
   So, I have compromised, as I suggested in the last post. I have purchased a 300mm lens capable of using a 2X extender giving me a one-third longer reach. These two photos were taken while trying it out in the yard. Obviously, there is more to come.....

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June 17, 2012

The Lens: EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Sandhill Crane

This musing is about my most recent trip and how very much it was enhanced by the new lens, I ended my last post saying 'there is more to come...'. How much more I had no idea!
   The trip began as planned, meeting up with fellow birder/photographer Dan Logan for a few days in central Oregon. We met in the mountains and then went on to inspect Klamath Marsh and ended up at a favorite spot of mine east of Lapine. The first chance to put the lens to work came as we were standing at the edge of the wetland at the marsh. Dan had heard some cranes rattle and spotted two to the south and one answering from the north. As we watched the one from the north it began walking toward us and, as Dan predicted, it walked past us about 100 feet away. A great opportunity and, with the 2X extender on the new lens, just the right equipment for the job. As I remarked then, I had never before gotten a good looking photo of one of these birds. Now I have.

Green-tailed Towhee

Our next stop, at the watering holes near Fort Rock, was a chance to really compare this new lens with my previous equipment. I have been there with the Canon 500, 100-400 and 300 mm lenses as well as, last year, a Panasonic M4/3rds with a 100-300 mm lens setup. Last year was a farce, nuff said.
   But this new lens far outshined even the very good equipment I had used previously. I think the quality of the photos produced by this lens are noticably a little better but the real difference was in the using of it. With the 1.4X extender I had just the right focal length for this spot, most of the time. The one negative is the fixed focal length. That did present a problem occasionally, here and later. Being focused on this new lens, I didn't try the 70-200 mm with a 2X extender which may have worked equally as well or, in the case of being able to pull back a little, even better. Something for next time.

Bobolink

At this point I just wasn't ready to return home as originally planned and decided to go to Malheur NWR. When I arrived in the area, I realized the water in the lake was much higher than I had previously seen it and was afraid the road I wanted to explore was closed. Stopping at the refuge headquarters, I was assured it was open and in fact was the hotspot for activity at that time. The volunteer there was also very helpful in suggesting other locations which proved fruitful for sought after species such as the Bobolink near the 'P' ranch.
   Just a side note here; I had heard about a small but productive little park and pond/wetland in Fields, about a 100mile round trip from the refuge boundry. A store there is also rumored to have extremely tasty hamburgers and shakes. I went. The small park was slow, it was about noon, and the store was busy. I wasn't hungry but did try the shake. It, like the park, didn't really make the trip worth the long drive.
   Back to what took me to Harney county, Ruh-Red road. It was worth the trip! Avocets, stilts, pelicans, egrets, grebes and ducks and all within reach of the 300 mm lens with the 2X extender. I could have gotten some good photos with the 70-200 mm and 2X extender as I did in Idaho but the 600 mm combo was perfect for the birds and distances here. There were times things were too close to get in the frame and others when even the 600 mm was a little shy which only means, to me, that I did have the right setup this time.
   One more thing about this lens before I quit; It is the best handling and balanced lens of any I have had. I can handhold it as well as the 1.5 pound lighter 70-200 mm and, because of the balance, never feel strained. In fact the 70-200 mm has bothered me at times because of a heavy front end feeling I get when using it. The 300 mm feels perfect end to end when mounted to my 7D and it seems to be so whether configured with either extender. I haven't actually used it without one yet but think the same feeling would hold. So thats the long and the short of it. From 300 mm to 420 mm to 600 mm and sharp as a tack in all, I'm in love!

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July 23, 2012

Newbies

Fledgling Evening Grosbeak

This time of year I like to take photos of as many of the new arrivals in the yard as I can. By 'new arrivals', I mean the baby birds whose fledging fits so nicely between spring and fall migrations. But this year I have been so busy remodeling the water feature in the yard I have been content to just note them as I work and watch. (Another story I will try to write about soon)
   Last evening, though, I had to run for the camera. I was too late of course, mom and her fledgling had left. I was rewarded, however, by an appearance of a Townsend's Chipmunk, the first ever in the yard. Persistant little devil, took three tries before he was able to jump from a tree limb onto the feeder.
   Anyhow, this morning I set the camera out and, while I was taking a break, mom and baby Evening Grosbeak returned. It posed, I clicked and here it is.
   Earlier this year I had Evening Grosbeaks in large numbers and could hardly wait for them to leave as they usually do mid-spring or so. This year they over-stayed their welcome to the point I had to take the feeder down for a while. Even then, there was one pair that stuck around and I have seen them from time to time since then but not as regular as earlier. I suspected, even hoped, they were nesting nearby, so wasn't totally surprised when they came to the feeder.
   Now that I have recorded the event I will be quite happy if they are the only pair to breed here again. Feeding a flock of EVGR all summer is not something I want to do and not feeding at all would deprive me of seeing many of the summer newbies.

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August 29, 2012

Before and After

Photography Blind

Wow! How time flies when you're having fun. In my last post on July 23rd I mentioned I was remodeling the water feature in the yard and shortly after that I posted a video of the yard and described some changes I had made. But after looking at the video I decided more changes were needed. Some of the area was overgrown and some of the Nootka Rose and the Tall Oregon Grape were causing problems with other plants nearby. Also the little photo blind, even though wonderfully useful, wasn't the most attractive centerpiece for the yard. After the pond, shown in this earlier photo, was filled in, the blind and the Oregon Grape behind it still hid some more attractive parts of the yard.Gazebo
   After removing the blind and the Oregon grape I had this large empty spot that was perfect for sitting and enjoying the sounds and sight of the water and the birds. After sitting there a couple of times it became obvious that something more was needed. Thanks to the internet and Google, it wasn't too hard to find ideas and plans for almost anything and everything. I took a bit from several of each and built this 6-sided gazebo. Much more attractive, HOWEVER.....
   Now, even though the birds will ignore me if I sit still, the moment I try to raise a lens they are gone. Not good! So this morning I put the blind inside the gazebo for a while. It was even better than before. I know they can still see me through the window in the blind they evidently don't feel threatened because I can click away and they just go on doing what they are doing.
   The blind had to be immediately removed when I was finished in order to avoid trouble with the local official, but I am already starting to think about a hinged three sided screen I could set up and remove quickly. The best of all worlds. I wasn't kidding when I said to start I was having fun, I love it.

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September 15, 2012

I Wanna New Camera

Sensor Size Comparison

There isn't anything wrong with the one I use but twice a year new and improved models are announced and the juices flow. From the spring of 2003, when the 10D was introduced, until the fall of 2009 and the 7D became available, I averaged about two years between models. Now the 7D is three years old and given it's price range and performance level, there still isn't anything to beat it.
   That isn't to say there isn't newer cameras with improved bells and whistles out there, just nothing that can replace the 7D. One reason seems to be a concentration on 'full frame' models. The sensor in these being 36mm X 24mm as compared to the APS-C sensor of the 7D at 23.3mm X 14.9mm. There are some advantages to the F(ull)F(rame) sensor but there are downsides as well. I will mention some that are of consideration to me but first I want to point out that the big improvement in newer cameras is in the processors such as the Digic 5+ in the Canon line. These are what allow for faster shutter speed, quicker and more accurate A(uto)F(ocus) and lower noise at higher sensitivity levels (ISO).
   The photo here is a FF with an APS-C overlay. As you can see the FF gives a much more expansive view with any given lens. If, however, what you want is within the area of the overlay, you need to have a bigger (read heavier, more expensive) lens or you can crop, which then makes the extra size of no value. If you crop to APS size from FF you need a sensor with 1.6X more pixels in order to have the same resolution. In the case of the 7D that would mean a FF of 29 M(ega)P(ixels). M stands for mega but also money.
   Another downside to me is the file size. I save raw files that are roughly the size in MB(ytes) of the sensor in MP. If a third of those MP's are useless to me, I don't want to spend the extra time it takes to work with them or use the extra storage space they require.
   Obviously, I am happy with the APS sensor and the 18 MP resolution of the 7D. For most of the photography I do they are just right and for the times I need the bigger picture I can use a smaller, less-expensive lens to get it. So, what do I want? Digic 5+! Faster more accurate AF. Less noise at higher ISO so I can take more and better photos in low light which predominates in western Washington. If Canon wants to throw in a MP or two, that's alright as long as it doesn't take away from the good stuff. Oh and by the way, Canon, please don't use the sensor like the new mirror-less and Rebel T4i have. If you can't get the contrast AF as good as the other guys pocket cameras, just forget it!

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September 17, 2012

Further Thought..5D3 or 7D2

White-tailed Kite

Maybe it is time to give F(ull)F(rame) another try. Both the photo in the last post and the one(s) here were taken with the original 5D, a 12.7 MP FF camera. The end result on the bottom left is a small crop from the FF and would even be somewhat small from an APC size sensor. Even so, it isn't too bad for web posting and even looks pretty good in the 5 X 7 print on my wall.
   Canon has 3, new this year, FF camera models to choose from, one way over my budget, one right at budget but without the AF system I want and one in the middle that has pretty much what I want but is maybe a little over-priced. Budget-wise it would be a stretch but what's new!? They are the 1Dx,most expensive, the 6D, the just announced, lowest priced model, and the 5DMk3, the only one I would consider for my use. Nikon has some offerings worth consideration but with a substantial investment in newer Canon lenses, I'm pretty well locked in. So, let's do some musing about the 5D3 and whether it would be a good option.
   White-tailed Kite
   First of all, what advantage is there to FF? My first thought is the brighter viewfinder. The larger the sensor the brighter, more visible what you see in the viewfinder, making it easier to compose and focus. Easier relates to faster, making the number of missed opportunities smaller. That is a large point and is, in fact, the only thing I missed after I sold the 5D. Otherwise, bells and whistles being equal, the advantages of a larger sensor are relatively unimportant in most of what I do.
   Is there any important disadvantage? In my previous post I mentioned the larger file size being a downside in most circumstances for me and, while that is true, it really isn't a big issue. Needing longer, more expensive lenses, to fill the frame is a downside I also mentioned, but that isn't critical IF a satisfactory crop can be used. Almost all of my non-landscape photos are cropped.
   What, then, are the important, to me, considerations between the currently available 5D3 and the, assumed to be coming, 7D2? Three important areas are; cost: mostly purchase price; usability: VF brightness, AF speed and accuracy; and I(mage)Q(uality)uality: image resolution and noise level. Of these, it is safe to assume the AF and IQ would be comparable with, perhaps, a slight edge to the 7D2 on IQ and the same to the5D3 on AF. Also, of somewhat lesser importance but should be considered, the 7D2 is likely to have built-in GPS, Wi-Fi and pop-up flash.
   The bottom line, it seems, is still where it was before. The bright VF isn't worth the extra cost and the 7D2, when it comes, may very well be a more usable camera for my purposes. If, however, the 5D3 drops significantly in price before the 7D2 is clearly on the horizon, I just may give it another look.

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