Monday, May 31, 2010

What else could it be?

I had to do it. At some point I needed to take the 7D out back and shoot Grackles :D

So, for say 145, I made it a challenge. I moved my shooting position farther away, changed the angle to get harsher light, put the teleconverter on the 70-200 and cranked the ISO to 400. So in theory I would have a noisier, more heavily cropped, slightly less sharp version of a shot I already had. I call it "Grackle Picture, version 7D":

Grackle picture: Version 7D

Well, I have to say the 7D performed admirably. Pixel to pixel this shot is at least as sharp as the XSi shots were, the extra 6MP really made the cropping no big deal, and even with the teleconverter on saturation is excellent. Noise is much improved as well.

Somehow despite the extra weight of the 7D body, I don't think I'm going to miss the XSi. Also, I can't wait for some other birds to start coming back north.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Babies everywhere!

We had friends visiting today, and although I hadn't really planned on pictures, when you get babies together, cute stuff happens.

My boy, Marcus, and their daughter, Norah, did the classic baby thing of staring at each other in amazement and pawing away at each other's faces. I only took a few shots but I kept one and I thought it would be more post processing practice time. I think I'm getting a style down that I like, not fully Lomo or anything, but slightly contrasty and desaturated.

Anyhow, here is the picture for today:

Norah and Marcus

Shot with the new 7D, and my 50mm. She's a little doll, but I couldn't get a lot of smiles out of her. I wasn't really trying to force the issue, it's not a shoot, but she was quite a serious little lass. A good visit with friends though.

This picture also illustrates the value a big wide aperture. There was not going to be a good background to this shot, period. We were all sitting around on the floor, so it was going to be someones knee or elbow or something, so dial back to f/2.2 and blur the heck out of it!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oh my...

I'm not sure how this happened, but...

Pray for my wallet

Pray for my wallet...

Please extend my line of credit...

Two days worth of pics today. Last night was a bit busy, but I did get a chance to play with a new toy that arrived, courtesy of the Buy and Sell forums at

Extend my credit line

My extender arrived! So basically, this works with the new lens to add 40% to the focal length for the loss of one stop of aperture and a little focus speed. Basically, the 70-200mm f/2.8 becomes a 98-280mm f/4 but it retains stabilization. For bird shoots, and zoo visits it's a fair trade-off.

Today, we went to our local bird supply store Wild Birds Unlimited to see a few birds brought in from the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre: Perry the Peregrine Falcon and Tao the Great Horned Owl.

Falcon in the Bird Store

Owl in the Bird Store

Glorious birds, and very patient photo subjects. Low ambient flourescent lighting does not make for ideal photography. This is where the 50mm f/1.4 really shines. I could have gone with the 70-200 but it's awkward in a crowd, and it's not something I want to drag everywhere. It would have given me a much tighter shot with more detail, but these are fine, I think.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Day 141 and I wanted to do a set shot that I had in mind ever since my daughter got a set of multicoloured toy bugs.

Let me just say that I don't like spiders. This from the guy with a pet 5' python, but I really don't like spiders, and even garishly coloured plastic ones make me feel uneasy. I decided that I wanted to try and capture something that echoed that.

I borrowed my wife, set her up on the couch and tried to get a shot like I had in mind. I ended up having her right on her back, me hovering above with a flash/umbrella adaptor in my left hand since I couldn't angle it correctly on the light stand.

The shot needed some work, so this is was another chance to work on my post processing, trying out some actions and fiddling with colours.

Here is the result:


I think it captured the emotion, and what more can you ask for? The plastic spiders a bit hokey but it's what I had on hand. I like it, it looks like what I expected.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No birds today!

On day 140 I got ambushed. As soon as I walked in the door, my daughter was all excited to tell me that she had been gathering twigs all day and that we were going to walk down to the park at the end of the street and toss them in the lake, and it would make the biggest splash ever.

Once again, I know enough to follow the orders of the women in my life.

I unloaded the groceries, grabbed the camera, and headed out with my little girl. I took about two dozen shots, and decided that this would be another good opportunity to work on my post-processing.

I hope you like the results!

Going Twig Tossing - #1

Going Twig Tossing - #2

Going Twig Tossing - #3

Thanks for reading, your comments and criticism are always welcome and wanted!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Birds, birds, birds...

Just like I got a little obsessed with macros and lightbox shots in the winter, I've been in the backyard shooting birds whenever I can manage it this spring. I really enjoy it, and the challenge of getting your shots in quickly is entertaining. Hopefully no one minds another day of bird shots!

I haven't seen many new birds, but we are hoping to get Orioles and Hummingbirds soon. I did get one shot I've been hoping for, however.

First, it was a pretty windy day, and feathers were ruffling on the fence:

Windy Grackle

I had better shots of this Grackle, but the lighting is always tricky and they are mostly black in the feather detail. These shots are always going to be backlit, so I might have to investigate using my flash to fill a little for more detail. Something like the Better Beamer might be useful.

I had two new visitors I managed pictures of today. The first is a female Red-Winged Blackbird:

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Not nearly as striking as the male, but the patterns are lovely. We also had a Chipping Sparrow this afternoon:

Chipping Sparrow

I would have no idea what this guy was, but I picked up a Sibley guide for backyard songbirds as I spend more time watching the birds, and it's been very helpful. I'm really enjoying this new aspect of my hobby.

Finally, the shot I was hoping for. A wings-extended, in-focus, flight shot:

Grackle in Flight

Another Grackle, so not much interesting in the colour, but I was happy to get a crisp flight shot. I opened the aperture to give myself more DOF while increasing the ISO a bit to compensate, set my focus on the fence where the Grackle was sitting, and then panned over while maintaining the focus. Then it was just patience and a quick shutter finger when it took off to go to the feeder. It worked! next I have to try this trick with a smaller, faster bird and hope for similar results.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Back off my back!

Day 138 and I can walk!

Today, when I woke up, the clouds outside were just amazing. I don't think I've ever seen clouds like this before in my life. I couldn't resist taking a few pictures. The last one includes the roofline of a house up the street to give a little more sense of depth:

Crazy Clouds #1

Crazy Clouds #2

Crazy Clouds #3

I have no idea what these cloud formations are called, but I love 'em.

Anyhow, the original plan for shooting today was to head up to Lockport, Manitoba and the Half Moon for fries and ice cream, and a walk down to the locks to see the Pelicans. Lockport has a resident population of a hundred or so White Pelicans that hang around near the Half Moon and feast on the fish that get trapped by the locks. Unfortunately, they all hang out on the far side of the river and even at 200mm I couldn't get a keeper of a shot.

As I got home, I decided to camp out at the backyard bird feeder again. I liked my cloud pictures but I wanted one more for my first day back. I didn't see any new birds, but I did see a Grackle with an attitude.


Look at that guy strut. He's got it goin' on... Oh yeah...

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Sorry for the lack of posts this week, I managed to throw my back out again, quite badly this time. It's a chronic thing, and it happens a few times a year.

Since there are these unavoidable absences from my 365, I've decided that the best way to handle it is to not count those days towards my year. Sure I won't be finishing on New Years Eve, but I will get through my project without too much trouble, and it should only slide my end day out a few weeks.

I'll be back and shooting again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I didn't really plan to take any specific pictures today, but a couple of them turned up.

First, the backyard had a bunch of new visitors today, so I had five or ten minutes of silence in my backyard birding chair and snapped a pic of a common Grackle eyeing our feeder:

Backyard Grackle

Tomorrow is my wife's birthday so we also made her cake tonight, and it's my daughters job to decorate after I ice it. She chose pink icing, and sprinkles. All the sprinkles in the house. Possibly some borrowed from the neighbours.

Mommys Cake

My teeth ache just thinking about eating a piece this monstrosity tomorrow night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sprout in the sky...

Day 135 and it's just amazingly gorgeous outside.

My daughter and I took a stroll down to the park to see what sorts of birds were out, but small kids are not exactly adept at stalking down flighty waterfowl. I didn't really mind as the walk was great, and we had fun.

There were still some nice shots to take, and I ended up just enjoying the blue skies and the signs of new spring growth. Here's my favourite of the afternoon:

Sprout in the Sky

I found a Canon TC 1.4x II extender this week as well and I am anxiously awaiting it's delivery. The 200mm is decent, but a little extra reach sure won't hurt with my attempts to shoot songbirds. I know you lose a little clarity, and a full stop of aperture, but it should be a benefit overall if I can reduce the amount of cropping I need for those distant shots.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Day 135 and I spent about three hours up in Gimli, MB, shooting the opening race of the MRA motorcycle season. It was a great chance to play with the 70-200, and work on some high shutter speed and panning shots.

The weather was great, but the sun was incredibly bright, so expect some blown skies in the pictures, and a lot of pictures to boot. I shot about 400 exposures, and a good 50% of them are usable, but I picked a few favourites to share.

The pit area was set up with a variety of tents and shades from various competitors and teams:

Gimli Raceday - The pits

There were about twenty or so racers all together, and they were kind enough to line up a number of their bikes for me:

Gimli Raceday - The lineup

Some of the hardware on display was pretty impressive and expensive:

Gimli Raceday - Hardware

And of course, my friends team, Defiant Motorsports, was in attendance:

Gimli Raceday - Defiant Motorsports

You have to love it when the competition flies the Jolly Roger as well:

Gimli Raceday - The competition

Now to the racing itself. Initially, I went with some straight high shutter-speed shots. I kept the aperture fairly wide to achieve that, and to blur out the terrain and trailing bikes. This first series was shot in one of the main curves, at f/4, ISO 100 and roughly 1/1600th shutter, manually focused on the tripod:

Gimli Raceday - In the curves #1

Gimli Raceday - In the curves #2

From there, I moved on to some panning shots on a slower section of the track. It took some fiddling, but I found that my magic exposure was about 1/160th shutter and f/11 still at ISO 100. IS is on in mode 2, which allows for movement in one direction for panning, and I handheld all these shots:

Gimli Raceday - Panning #1

Gimli Raceday - Panning #2

Gimli Raceday - Panning #3

These panning shots worked fairly well, and I kept about 1/3rd of these shots. The bikes were only hitting about 80kph here, so it was a good starting point.

I moved back to the corners for a bit, and tried some different angles to find interesting points to shoot. I actually had to cross the track to get this angle, please don't tell the guys at the MRA.

Gimli Raceday - Fighting in the corner #1

Gimli Raceday - Fighting in the corner #2

Gimli Raceday - Fighting in the corner #3

Finally, a challenge. Panning shots, close in, on the main straightaway. I was about fifteen or twenty feet away and these bikes were hitting 240kph or so at this point. Handheld again, same 1/160th shutter at f/11. This was a challenge, and I kep a lot close to 10% or so of these shots, but I consider the fact that I managed to keep any of the a huge victory. Here are my best two from this section:

Gimli Raceday - Straightaway #1

Gimli Raceday - Straightaway #2

All in all, a really fun day, and I got away from the kids for a few hours :D

The 70-200 performed *admirably*. Sharpness is everything I should have asked for, focus was accurate and fast, and the panning mode for IS made my very first attempts successful.




Saturday, May 15, 2010

Summer on a dessert plate...

Day 134 of my Project 365, and 2-for-1 quarts of strawberries at Safeway meant that there could be no doubt about dessert tonight.

Yeah, it's summer...

Oh yeah, it's summer alright.

So, let's talk about the picture. I didn't want a blown background again, I think it makes the pictures a little to clinical, and I'm trying to work on adding depth and character to my 'object' shots. I specifically went white background though as I do like the brightness. The gradient of white to gray is nice, and I think I'll continue to work on that in future.

Composition was another point. Reading about food photography I tried a tip that I had read a few times, and now I notice everywhere. You don't just shoot the food, but add some related items around it to provide a little more interest, in this case the strawberries. It's simple but it does seem to help, and if I have more time to set up the shot next time I'll be sure to add more to it.

For now though, I'm gonna eat it :)

Friday, May 14, 2010


So I was a bit rush for shooting on day 133, and I've been moved to a new office at work that is not downtown, so my opportunities there have pretty much vanished.

I was screwing around with my reflection setup, and decided to try not blowing out the background completely. The reflection and refraction of the light made some interesting gradients, and I decided to add more glass, water, and a splash of primary colours.


This is pretty much just an experiment but I kind of like it! I also lit the setup from above and below the glass platform instead of on the sides as well, so there was a change in reflection from that as well.

These sorts of shots are helpful to me. I learned a fair bit, and I got a good result in a fairly short time. Also I learned that hand blown crystal glasses are not always the same height even if they came out of the same box. Who knew?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rainbow rollup...

Well, day 132 wasn't a great day. I tried a few ideas for shots, but none of them really worked out... I have an ambitious project in mind and I did some preliminary tests for it as well, but the results were not particularly encouraging either.

So, when in doubt, go for lots of colour:

Rainbow Rollup

Construction paper, as any parent of a young child knows, is indispensable. I wanted to shoot down the tube and get the spiral, but lighting it proved to be near impossible, and there wasn't a way to get enough depth of field to get the effect I wanted, so I had to compose it this way. Here's hoping for a better shot tomorrow.

On a side note, I will hopefully be managing a trip up to Gimli, MB on Sunday to shoot a motorcycle race involving my friend's racing team, the same one featured in these shots. I'll try and do some panning shots, and give the new 70-200 a workout.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

For the birds...

That's right, day 131 is for the birds. I spent today making a point of taking some bird shots now that I have a little reach in my bag o' lenses.

Our backyard has a variety of feeders and we attract a lot of songbirds. They are, as one would expect, a bit flighty when someone comes into the back yard, so I pulled up a lawn chair, trained my lens on the feeder and tried to stay still for 20 or 30 minutes while snapping anything interesting that came by.

I got a couple of shots that were nice enough to keep, and although these aren't really anything special as photos, I do like to have a record of our backyard visitors.

Today, my best shots were of an unknown finch, and a mourning dove:

Mystery Finch

Mourning Dove

In addition, by the office I saw the first goslings of the season, going for a walk with Mom and Dad. I would have liked a closer shot, but geese get notoriously grumpy when they are nesting or have young, so I didn't want to agitate them.

Family Walk

The 70-200 is turning out to be everything I remember from this renting the lens, but it's easy to forget in the day of super-zoom point and shoots that 200mm is not a ton of focal length. It's certainly a lot more than I had, and the IS is completely worth the money, but if I want to every get serious about wildlife photography a 400mm or longer lens is going to have to find it's way into my kit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I'm sorry for a short post tonight, but day 130 can be summed up with one word: Upgrade!


So the f/4 version lasted a weekend before I decided to move up to the lens I really wanted, the EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM. Now I just have to pay for it...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Splish, splash, splosh...

Walking down to the mailbox to get the days pile of glossy advertisements can turn into a nautical adventure when you are four years old. It also turns into a photo opportunity for Dad, although trying to keep her out of traffic while keeping the camera dry and carrying three packages was a bit of a joy.

Once again, I was working on trying to improve my post processing, so there is a few different filters and effects applied. I wanted to keep the mood in the cloudy-and-rainy realm while still making some colours pop.

Here are the two shots I kept today:

Splashing Day - #1

Splashing Day - #2

These were both shot at ISO 200 and f/3.2 to bring up the shutter speed a bit. I wanted any splashes to be well frozen, but lighting was a bit challenging. These were taken at 1/400th and 1/500th respectively.

On a side note, I returned the 70-200 f/4 today, and my search for an f/2.8 IS might have turned up a winner in Toronto. We'll see what happens...

As always, thanks for reading. Comments and criticism are welcome!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fort Whyte Alive

Day 128 involved a nice day trip to Fort Whyte Alive, a waterbird and wildlife preserve here in Winnipeg. We went towards the end of the day, and we only managed about and hour of time on the trails, maybe even a bit less.

I wanted a chance to take the new lens out for a tour, and to be honest I can't say it lived up to my expectations. I think I was spoiled by renting the f/2.8 IS version. The f/4 does have serious price and weight advantages but for image quality, I think there isn't much comparison.

In fact, this one is going back on Monday, and I'm going to renew my search for a used f/2.8 IS.

Here are the pictures that I kept from the trip:

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-Winged Blackbird


Nesting Goose
Nesting Goose

Map Turtle
Map Turtle

Reflecting Goose
Reflecting Goose


Red-winged Blackbird in flight
Red-Winged Blackbird in flight

American Robin
Robin Redbreast

Muskrat - #1
Muskrat - #1

Muskrat - #2
Muskrat - #2

Goose saying goodbye
Goose Go Bye-Bye

I can't complain too much about the sharpness of the lens, but I just don't see the definition that I saw in the 2.8 and I don't know if it's the lack of stabilization or the quality of the 2.8s glass. So, my next lens will have both :)