Monthly Archives: January 2015

Acadia – Boulder Beach

boulderbeach-3

In late September, my kids had a couple days off from school that wrapped into the weekend, so I suggested a whirlwind trip to Maine to visit our favorite beach (Popham Beach State Park), and then we would spend about 36 hours at Acadia National Park. That would allow for two sunrise sessions for me.

The first morning was crazy when I arrived. I was not able to do any advance scouting the previous evening, and never having been to Acadia, I was both literally and figuratively, in the dark. I arrived before sunrise at the Boulder Beach and Otter Cliffs area to be confronted by a swarm of photographers, all with tripods, cable releases, lenses, bags, etc. In addition, there were two enormous cruise ships making the rounds offshore. I tried my best, but framing images around large numbers of other people and large, well-lit vessels at sea produced weak results.

The kids and I spent the day visiting other areas of the park, allowing me an opportunity to establish my bearings. I even managed to capture a couple good midday images. We found a location for some sunset shots and even with a cloudless sky, still got an attractive end of day photo (a future post).

I headed out earlier the next morning, anticipating more elbow-to-elbow conditions. When I arrived at Boulder Beach I had it to myself. There were no clouds to create a dramatic palette of colors against at sunrise, so I looked for another element to accentuate and complement the horizon. After taking several test images of various compositions, I concentrated on one framing that highlighted some pools of water in the foreground that reflected the incredible blue of the sky. The reds and oranges of the horizon, along with the pools and dark shapes of the rocks, created a pleasing composition, even without clouds to create even more nuanced colors in the sky. The image you see here is the one that I feel best captured the scene.

Photo info:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mk. III
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4.0L IS USM
  • 24mm, f/16, ISO 100, 29 secs.
  • Tripod and cable release employed

Bird of the Week – Winter Wader

sanderling-2

While the activity most certainly declines once the weather turns colder, there are pockets of life to be observed. Along the shore, it is common to see tight flocks of small wading birds quickly moving in and out with the waves, constantly pecking at the exposed shore, feeding on (usually) small morsels. The birds are often sanderlings, like the one shown here, and sometimes they are able to snag a more sizable piece of sustenance, like this lucky fella did. These birds are fun to watch as they will startle easily and fly off, but then almost immediately fly back to where they were. Once they fly back, you are now part of the scenery and they will tolerate your presence to allow for intimate viewing of their antics. Photographed January 23 at Hammonasset State Park on the beach adjacent to the Moraine Trail

Photo information:

  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM + Extender EF 1.4x III
  • f/5.6, 1/2000 sec., ISO 1000
  • Tripod employed

Warmer days

westriver-2

The last post was about the East River. The weather of the last couple of days has made me (and probably many others) pine for warmer days. The opposite of East is West so how about a visit to the West River in late summer to start thinking of the coming of the temperate days of spring and summer. I took this photo during a visit to the West River in Guilford, Connecticut last summer. There is a trail that begins at the end of the road/parking lot behind the Baldwin Middle School. That trail meets a field that allows access to a several trails that all feed to spots on the West River. I was there a couple days before when my dog took advantage of several pools in the river to go for numerous swims. This particular spot attracted my attention because I liked the downed tree spanning the river, the reflections in the water, and the abundance of green, especially on the rocks along the left riverbank. I went back on the day of this photo and arrived before dawn. I scouted a few other spots and took some other images, but this view remains the one I like best. It makes me think I might have to visit it again now given the deep snow that has fallen. That should make for some interesting opportunities. Enjoy and remember that spring is coming!

Photo information:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4.0L IS USM
  • 35mm, f/11, ISO 100, 13 secs.
  • Tripod and cable release employed

East River

eastriver1

I was out this past Saturday afternoon at the East River Preserve in Guilford, CT with no particular photographic agenda. In fact, it was relatively warm (for mid-January) and sunny and I was content to simply meander around. However, when I came upon this part of the East River, I knew I had to set up and take this photo.

I was pulled in by two things. First, the line from the lower right beginning with the “anchor” rock, moving through the ripples caused by the water flowing over the rocks and then settling in the rocks in the upper left corner of the image creates a compelling path through the image. Second, I knew that with a moderately slow shutter speed, the harsh highlights reflected in the water would become slightly less-defined to create a more painterly effect. On scene, I had thought this would be a good candidate for a black & white print, but when I looked at it on the computer display at home, I was more drawn to the blues of the water and the subtle colors of the rocks beneath the surface of the river.

Photo information:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mk. III
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
  • 360mm, f/22, ISO 100, 1/2 sec., with circular polarizer
  • Tripod and cable release employed

Winter Gimmickry

chatfieldhollow

In the winter it can be virtually impossible to consistently find interesting subject matter because in many places, everything just looks dead. That’s what makes Mother Nature’s gimmicks helpful to spice things up. Snow and ice are always good at helping to create interesting material themselves or they can accentuate an already interesting composition. Another fairly common winter visual aid occurs when warming air temperatures hover over frozen ground. This will often create misty, foggy conditions that render an ethereal softness.

Conditions were just like this on January 4. I had to pick my daughter up from horseback riding and I knew I had to drive right through Chatfield Hollow State Park to do that. I left a little early to see if I could take advantage of the conditions.

This photo was taken about 200 yards from the road in the middle of a stream where bedrock created a small dam and the resultant pool in the immediate foreground. That pool generated a nice reflection of the trees that overlooked the stream and the usually muted greens of the mosses and oranges and yellows of the dead leaves “popped” a little with the diffuse light. I love the overall soft light of the image and the various spots of color in an otherwise “dead” scene.

Photo information:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mk. III
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4.0L IS USM
  • 16mm, f/13, ISO 100, 1.6 sec.
  • Tripod and cable release employed

The ecstasy and the agony… rough-legged hawk redux

roughlegged3 (1 of 1)

I have made several trips down to the East River marsh in the hopes of capturing that perfect image of the Rough-Legged Hawk that has been frequenting the marsh where the East River empties into Long Island Sound on the Guilford-Madison border. The images from Sunday, January 18 were nice in that I did not previously have any of this type of hawk, but the conditions were less than optimal. Those pictures are really only documentary in nature (see previous post below).

Yesterday afternoon, my hopes were high as I got closer to the dirt road that leads to the boat launch. The hawk was on a utility pole on the beach-side of the road. I passed it, turned onto the dirt road, hastily parked, and walked back, camera in hand. I took a few quick portraits, but they were obscured by wires. As I moved closer, the hawk launched across the road, and was obscured first by wires, and then brush. I was able to snap a few photos before it landed on the peak of the roof of the nearest home. The best is the one shown above, although I am tormented by the clipping of the wingtips at the bottom of the frame… so close to capturing a perfect image! Note the burrs stuck to the bird’s underside.

I turned and before I could even focus, he (or she?) was off again, skirting the back “yards” along the marsh before coming to rest in a tree behind the farthest house. I made my way down the street, quickly set up the tripod and captured a few more images before we were off again to the same peak of the roof of the house back up the street. I followed, at which time he again retreated to the tree behind the last house. I figured that I had been granted my chance and it was better to let the bird alone rather than harass it. Apparently, those duties were taken up by other local residents, as a few crows buzzed it and then landed to keep the hawk company (see below). The hawk decided that it would seek calmer locales and took off in a westerly direction along the shore.

I will keep trying to capture that perfect image as long as this beautiful bird remains close by.

Photo information:

  • Top: Canon EOS 7D Mk. II, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 1000, 1/1600 sec.
  • Below, top: Canon EOS 7D Mk. II, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 1000, 1/2000 sec.
  • Below, middle: Canon EOS 7D Mk. II, Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM, f/4.5, ISO 1000, 1/4000 sec.
  • Below, bottom: Canon EOS 7D Mk. II, Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM, f/5.6, ISO 1000, 1/2000 sec.

roughlegged6 (1 of 1) roughlegged5 (1 of 1) roughlegged4 (1 of 1)

Rough-Legged Hawk

roughlegged (1 of 2) roughlegged (2 of 2)

These are two images of the Rough-legged Hawk that has been visiting the marsh at the end of the series of roads that start at Neck Road in Madison, CT and end at the Guilford-Madison East River boat launch. They were taken in rather poor conditions of moderate rain and very gloomy (dark) skies just before sunset on January 18 and will surely not win any contests, but they are of an interesting subject. Yes, this beautiful bird is extremely wet (and probably got wetter as the skies opened up after sunset). Others have seen this beauty since, although I was skunked both morning and afternoon on January 19. I will try again tomorrow!

Photo information:

  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM + Extender EF 1.4x III
  • f/5.6, 1/500 sec., ISO 1000

Bird of the Week – Northern Harrier

harrier

I love harriers. I suspect that part of that comes from the utter frustration I experience trying to capture good photos of them. If you are not familiar with their flying and hunting traits, they move around fields and open areas very low to the ground, slowing, accelerating, turning, rising, diving, hovering, and several other things involving flight and its various changes in speed, altitude, and direction. Focusing is extremely challenging as they are almost always doing these acrobatics with grasses, bushes, trees, etc., as the backdrop, constantly confusing the camera’s autofocus “brain”. In short they are beautiful and challenging.

Last week, I made one of my several-times-per-week morning pilgrimages to Hammonasset State Park to see what was happening. It was extremely cold and the bitter wind made me wonder why I had ventured out that day. As I was making my way back to the car, I stopped to look across one of the salt marshes where the harriers hunt and play (Hammonasset has a winter population of about a half dozen Northern Harriers). I heard several crows doing a lot of squawking, which usually means that some type of bird of prey may be near. Sure enough, a harrier appeared and made several circles around the same general area of the marsh. After a few passes, he briefly landed and then took off, with the remnants of a rabbit in tow. I can only assume that he had cached the remains of the rabbit in the marsh the day before after consuming part of it and had returned to claim the remainder. I was lucky to be in place to capture this photo. It was the only instant where the bird turned its head even slightly in my direction after taking off.

Photo information:

  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM
  • f/4.5, 1/1600 sec., ISO 800
  • Tripod employed

Bird of the Week – Peregrine Falcon

peregrine

Note: the Piping Plover post was actually last week’s as I missed posting then due to travel

I made my usual foray down to Hammonasset State Park in the morning after getting the kids on their way. Things were generally quiet except for some cardinals, sparrows, and a Hermit Thrush. After hiking a few trails and finding only the aforementioned subjects, I was making my way back to the car when I came across a Northern Harrier and snapped a few shots of it (next week’s BOTW). I was behind my car starting to pack up when a couple of fellow photographers who had also braved the cold told me there was a Peregrine Falcon out on the jetty. I walked to the pavilion and looked through my lens and, sure enough, there it was. I added the 1.4x converter and began to walk onto the beach toward the jetty. I stopped to gauge my distance through the lens when the falcon took off towards me at a very quick pace. I barely had time to find it in the viewfinder and snap about a half dozen images. I like this one best. On the way back to the car, I ran into a friend who advised that a flock of small birds had lifted off from the parking lot about the same time that the falcon made its dash. I can only assume that the falcon saw those birds and attempted a hunt.

Photograph information:

Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM + Extender EF 1.4x III, f/5.6, 1/4000 sec., ISO 800

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM – Part One

Note that these images are presented for illustration of the capabilities of this lens and are minimally edited.

I have been itching to shoot the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM since I received it about a month ago (I received it mere days after returning from Bosque del Apache, which would have been an incredible place to take it for a test run.) Unfortunately, the weather has been extremely cold and dreary here in Connecticut and there have not been enough bird and wildlife opportunities to fully put it through its paces (I’m saving the scenic and landscape shots for the grander vistas of the West in late March). However, I did have the better part of a day available to me during a long weekend in Florida that seemed like a promising locale. I went to the nearest likely spot, the Ulumay Wildlife Preserve near Merritt Island. Before getting into the details of the results of that day, it is important to lay out my initial expectations for this lens.

Prior to purchasing the 100-400, the longest lens in my kit was the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, excepting my 600mm, which is seemingly a couple orders of magnitude further out on the spectrum and also in its own weight class, and thus in its own class compared to my other lenses. While I found the quality of the 70-200 to be exceptional, there were two drawbacks for my own personal use. I do not like the tradeoff of the f/2.8 maximum aperture with its accompanying weight. I also wanted a longer focal length than the 200mm maximum of the 70-200. Yes, extenders are an option, but are not the best option for me (more on that below in my “wants and needs”.)

Wants and needs:

  • A lightweight lens relative to its focal length range
  • A high maximum focal length, e.g. 400 mm, in a lightweight lens
  • High image quality (duh)
  • Lens collar with tripod mount for scenery and landscapes
  • Dual function for both scenery/landscape and wildlife, particularly as a “single source” lens for backpacking trips
  • Robustness and weather sealing commensurate with the ‘L’ designation

Upon opening the box, I had a few initial reactions, all positive. First the lens possesses a fit and finish that is solid and tight, as you would expect with a professional caliber lens. Anything that rotated was smooth and solid, with no play. In particular, I like the rotating zoom (as opposed to push-pull) and also the fact that it can be adjusted to suit one’s individual tastes in terms of looseness or tightness of the zoom mechanism. I also appreciate the detachable tripod mounting foot. The lens hood, with a “window” to allow operation of a circular polarizer is a nice touch. Finally, when fully extended to 400mm the lens possesses a nice balance, making hand-holding quite easy, even for long periods of time. It felt much better balanced, to me, than the 70-200 felt.

My in the field assessment is broken into parts, with this installment being Part One, focused on wildlife (or more specifically birds), with scenery to follow in early April after my trip to California, and a third installment after I have had time to shoot flowers and insects in an almost, but not quite, macro mode (this lens will not focus 1:1, but will work for subjects such as large flowers and insects like butterflies, where a closeup image is not necessarily a 1:1 reproduction).

A few caveats:

  • I am not doing a lens test, per se, as I do not have the equipment, time or inclination. Nor am I doing lens comparisons. I am simply providing my experiences and opinions. Your mileage may vary, particularly if this lens is not suited to your personal needs. It is a tool; no more no less. Just as you wouldn’t use a hammer if you need a screwdriver, you shouldn’t give this lens a bad review because you shoot wide angle landscapes. It’s not the tool for that job.
  • I did not perform any AFMA (autofocus micro adjustment). I will, but just have not done so yet. However, I have to say that out of the box, I was not disappointed. Also, if you are not familiar with AFMA, I won’t go into a discussion of what it is. I will state that if your camera body can accommodate it, and you have problems with sharpness with a specific lens, the problem may not be the lens. Do some research before you give up on a lens. The problem may be calibration and not quality of the lens and/or body.
  • All images were shot on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II. This lens on that body yields an effective zoom range of 160-640mm (100-400 x 1.6 = 160-640).
  • There were definitely instances where the focal length was challenged and had I been shooting for “results” instead of just shooting all subjects with this lens, I would have switched to the 600mm to “fill the frame”. I did not, and some of the images are “soft” not because they lack sharpness, but because there simply are not as many pixels on the image’s subject as one would normally prefer. I cannot fault the lens in situations where it is not the right tool for the job.

The first thing I noticed based upon my experience, particularly at the long end of the range, is how much I miss that extra stop provided by the 600mm. Having that f/4.0 vs. f/5.6 means differences in image quality, shutter speed or both. There is no way to get around it, so you need to be aware of it. In the summer months where there is more light available, it is not as much of a factor. In these dark winter months with the sun low on the horizon and more dreary, cloudy days, I find myself starved for light. That extra stop would go a long way. In Florida, the sun was higher (after the rain mentioned below) and the light was not an issue once the sun came out. I suspect that had I been able to take this lens to New Mexico, I would have drawn the same conclusion as the sun was higher there and the weather was less dreary.

I found the image quality to be extremely good, particularly in instances where the subject came close to filling the frame. The images are sharp, with good contrast, no aberration, and relatively even light across the frame. In instances where there is good detail, it is captured sharply and effectively rendered onscreen once the images are imported. I am thrilled with the overall sharpness and I suspect that any sharpness produced through AFMA will be gravy.

The other positive is the focusing of the lens. Once I had the subject in the frame, there was no hunting (except as noted below). The image snapped into focus quickly, and was held in focus as I tracked the subjects. The two instances where I had issues are not unique to this lens. The first is where a bird is on the water bobbing up and down with high contrast light and dark ripples that grab the attention of the autofocus away from the bird. The other issue is when tracking a bird across a background that is “busy” and therefore drawing the attention of the autofocus away from the main subject. This only happened in instances where the subject was not the main subject in the image, meaning situations where the focal length of the lens was too short for the main object, creating scenarios where the subject focus could be “lost” among competing colors and contrast. In all other situations, I feel that the lens focus performance was excellent. For the record, I used Single-point Spot AF for still subjects and Zone AF for moving subjects.

I will note that while I was photographing at Ulumay, I was caught in a brief downpour in the midst of some steady rain. I was out on a trail with nowhere to hide and the lens (and camera body) both became quite wet. There were no ill effects on performance. I kept the lens hood in place and the front element remained dry (while everything else was soaked!) The image of the Tricolor Heron was recorded in the rain and the bird was shaking off the moisture as best as it could.

My overall experience is that this lens represents an excellent tool for the first test that I have put to it. Under the right circumstances, it yields excellent results. There is no doubt that it will not replace my 600mm for many birding applications, but for situations where the subjects are  too close for a 600 or where I simply cannot haul the 600, it is a great option that will produce high quality results. As stated previously, my biggest bugaboo is the f/5.6 maximum aperture at 400mm. However, I am certain this will be less of a factor as the days get longer. I can’t wait to try it on my Western trip where the vistas are larger and also next summer when the butterflies and hummingbirds are back. I am very happy to have traded it in as a replacement for the 70-200. If you are seeking a relatively light lens for wildlife and large insects or landscapes where the obstructions are few and the vistas grand, it could be a great choice for you, especially if you are a backpacker carrying more than just photo gear. It is for me.

Strengths:

  • Extremely useful focal length range
  • Relatively light weight
  • Image quality
  • Focusing speed
  • Build quality

Weaknesses:

  • Challenged in less than optimal light