Really harder than it looks

Flying birds and photography.  Seems easy enough.  Point the camera at a bird as it flies by and hit the shutter.

Yeah, right.

I’m starting to be really envious of the great bird photos I see.

Think I need to hunt for slower birds….

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Holiday wanderings

Nice Labor Day weekend visit to the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI.  They’ll be closing down for winter in a month or so and I wanted to make some more images there this year.  It was a cloudy day so the light was even and not harsh.  Their exhibits are well done and fun even if you aren’t a crane fanatic.  There are quite a few endangered crane species in the world and the Foundation works to preserve habitat as well as repopulate birds.  They hand-rear various species for relocation around the globe.  Hurricane Harvey did quite a bit of damage to their facility near Houston, which is involved with whooping crane research and repopulation.  You can contribute to their efforts by clicking on the link above.

Black Crowned Crane, International Crane Foundation

Whooping Crane, International Crane Foundation

Thought I’d practice with fast moving birds a bit but the gull population down by the lake was absent, with very few birds flying down the beach.  Pretty odd – maybe they had filled up on tourist snacks earlier in the day.  With the good weather, however, there were several fast moving objects on the water the practice on.

425mm, f/5, 1/1000sec

After waiting a bit and enjoying the sailboats gliding around the harbor I finally got this guy cruising the area.

425mm, f/5, 1/1600sec

The gear is all working as I hoped but I still need to work on the continuous focus system in my camera.  It doesn’t always react as fast as I think I need and it sometimes doesn’t focus on the subject I’m seeing.  Just need more birds flying by.

Hitting the target

One temptation coming from having a long lens is to photograph birds.  Bring them up close and personal to admire their colors, shape and look.  It’s a great idea but unlike the grand landscape, birds don’t sit still for long.  And if they do, it’s usually hundreds of yards away where they can keep an eye on you with plenty of time to flee.

Which comes to the second temptation – photograph flying birds.  What a great idea, to stop a bird in flight to admire how they glide through the air.  Tricky thing to do, however.

Turns out camera makers have tools to make it easier.  With all the gear available for photographers why should this be a surprise.  Interestingly, this idea is adapted from the armament business – a sighting tool.

This device sits in the hotshoe on top of the camera and projects a bright red reticle onto glass that you look through instead of the camera’s viewfinder.  A couple of simply adjustments ensures alignment between what you place the reticle on and what your camera lens sees.  Now instead of squinting through the viewfinder trying to keep a flying bird (or fast car, or airplane, or any moving object) centered in the view, you see the whole scene in front of you while aiming at the subject.  Much easier to track a moving object.

I set my camera up for continuous focus using all the focal points available, use the highest frames per second shooting rate and as high a shutter speed as I can get.  Then it’s time for birds.

300mm lens, f/3.2, 1/2000 sec

200mm lens, F/3.5, 1/1000 sec.

200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/3200 sec.

All of these images are seriously cropped from larger versions so they aren’t as crisply sharp as I’d want.  One of my first lessons is to not try and learn to do this using swallows as the subject.  They can hit a top speed of 40 MPH and seem to be capable of 90 degree turns at that speed.  I’m not sure my camera is able to focus fast enough to keep up with their changes in distance and trajectory.  Without the eyesight mounted on my camera I doubt being able to even make these images so it works as advertised.

At least I have a goal to reach now, really nice images of flying martins.  But I’ll probably practice more on something a little less agile and quick.  Maybe like this guy.

300mm lens, f/5.6, 1/640 sec

No, seriously, something that moves faster than a sloth.  I’m thinking my old friends will work just fine.

Sandhill Cranes, 200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/2500 sec

Blaze of glory

A summer that at times hardly felt like its promise of heat and humidity is starting to wind down.  Erratic trees are showing signs of fall colors, flowers are blossoming out as if for one last fling, migratory birds are grazing continuously as if on a time clock counting down to the trip south.  Across it all the colors of summer are brilliant.

All images around Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin.

Side of the road – someone sharing job

Pending summer end

Lunch

Passing through toward south

Waiting for a bee

Purple veil

More fun from a distance

I keep returning to Horicon Marsh searching for a whooping crane.  Now that I’ve got the gear to reach out and touch this rarely seen bird, he seems to be avoiding me.  Just have to keep it up, I guess.

Not that the time there is a waste.  I’m learning more about the terrain, the roads, the wildlife.  Seems the swifts that hang around one of the viewing stands are starting to get used to me.  Not that they are any happier about my presence.

My photography colleague Steve Russell is building quite a portfolio of macro images – you should take a look the result of his effort.  His technique is usually the traditional approach – macro lens, solid tripod, lots of patience to get the subject framed and exposed to his liking.  I’m not as good as Steve at getting close nor as patient to wait for the right moment.  Fortunately with my 300mm lens I can stand back and fill the frame.  Great for getting tight with a subject you can’t easily get to.

Sure, I could have been like Steve and gotten to this with a macro lens but it would have meant wading through a foot of marsh whereas I was able to stand on the boardwalk and get just as close as I wanted.  Like I said, Steve is better at this than me.

The swifts are an interesting crowd.  They zip around the boardwalk chasing each other (or invisible insects) all the while chatting about something.  For a break, they sit on the rope banister for the boardwalk and chat with each other.  Must be lots of gossip to keep up with in the marsh.

At the other end of the activity scale are the egrets and herons.  Patiently waiting for the right snack to appear, not getting in a rush for anything.  It seems they even take their time talking with each other.  Maybe they are sticklers for using just the right sentence structure or word choice.

The marsh serves as a very large nursery each year, as parents raise kids to be a part of the huge avian world.  This time of year the youngsters are showing some post-adolescent plumage as they look forward to following their parents south to escape the chill that will cover the marsh with ice and snow.  This young sandhill crane, not yet with his red skullcap, is strolling through the fields with mom and dad.

With so much to see there are opportunities for a little abstract, countering the soft, rounded edges of the marsh with man’s insistence on linear and angular.

I’m very pleased with the performance of this lens – it stretches me to be a better photographer for composition, exposure, focus and storytelling.

Marsh scenes – summer

Continuing to learn how to get best results from a 300mm lens I recently bought.  The Horicon marsh north of us is one of the best places around to see a variety of birds and scenery so I wandered around a bit to see what I could practice on.  Most of the images below are cropped from a larger composition.  Where I used it best, the lens is sharp enough to allow significant cropping and still render detail.  Great when the subjects you want simply refuse to get any closer.

Great Egret

This bird appears to have been resting from a feeding session in the marsh just below the tree.  I was able to get closer by creeping up behind other trees and shooting through open spots in the leaves.

Sandhill crane and red-winged blackbird

Earlier I was walking a dike with a small cloud of red-winged blackbirds around me, all screaming warnings to everything within hearing distance.  Experiencing that I realized they are pretty bold but didn’t realize what they would take on.  A pair of sandhill cranes were slowly feeding across a shallow marsh when they wandered into the nesting area of a group of blackbirds.  At least a half-dozen of the blackbirds were swooping around them, driving them away.  The most effective method seemed to be landing on the crane’s butt and screaming at it, like the one above.

Swallows

The swallow on the left was patiently waiting on the right one for something.  As the cleaning proceeded past the limit of the left one’s patience it reached out and grabbed the other’s wing.  That got attention.

Mallard family

Families are growing this spring, as parents have just a few months to train the kids on survival and migration.

Lily still life

Before the wind gets up there are nice opportunities for some quiet scenes.

Egret hunting party

This group of egrets slowing moved across this small marsh, vacuuming up fish, frogs and other aquatic life.

Muskrat

He appears to be gathering moss or reeds since he’s carrying a clump in his mouth as he makes his way back to a small island of cattails.

Great egret

Always good in a portrait session to have shots from both sides.

Wildlife among us

We’ve been wrestling with a raccoon over who controls the various bird feeders on our deck.  I’ve tried most of the tricks outlined on the web for thwarting the critter’s ability to climb up and vacuum out the seed and hummingbird feeders, only to learn just how agile and acrobatic a roly-poly looking animal can be.  We’ve finally resorted to simply taking the feeders in around dark and leaving some seeds on the deck for a late snack.  That enabled me to get this shot.

I did read that problems with raccoons usually pop up in the spring and then die off in the summer.  The theory is the mothers are filling up on food so they can produce enough milk for young in the spring, a need that tapers off as weaning takes place.  So I got to wondering – is that why are we the target of these munchie urges?

Tonight we confirmed (at least partially) that theory as these guys showed up.

The climbed on the rail because that’s where mom was right before she went into the feeder to fill up for the evening.  They couldn’t climb the pole with her so they sat together patiently waiting.  A little light didn’t seem to bother them.

Checked back later and dad had showed up, busily finishing off the seeds in our supposedly squirrel-proof feeder.  Ah, the joys of having almost opposable thumbs.

Look at those faces – would you buy a car from this pair?