Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Walk in the Woods with the D700

Christmas Eve was the last day of sunshine that we would have for a week, so I thought it might be nice to take a walk on the Beaver Trail at the Stony Swamp area. This is a short loop, perhaps 1km ... maybe a bit more, with stops at a beaver pond and the swamp itself.

I like to go there most winters to shoot the Chickadees, as they are very tame and can be shot really close. The only issue with this little trip was that I went a little late in the day and the light fell more quickly than I expected. I was looking to test my D700 and having the light fall, I certainly got an eyeful of noise from ISO rising quickly to ridiculous levels. I shot only the 70-300VR, a wonderful consumer grade lens that is also very slow at 300mm ... f/5.6.

On the way from the car to the bird sanctuary building, where sick birds are healed and nursed back to health, I encountered some seeds on the ground with several birds flitting back and forth from the bushes on the trail. It's ok to feed the birds here, as there are containers along the trail for them anyway, so they already have a dependence on man.

The light is very soft here, and yet still strong at this time, so I got this shot at ISO 360, which provides me with outstanding detail, helped somewhat by my stopping down to f/9.

Although I had the lens stopped down quite a bit, I was still able to get nice images with trees in the foreground isolated. A small sapling at center-rght in this case.

In many cases, I have chosen to process black and white because the colors in the forest shadows did nothing for me. Kind of a sickly brown ... plus I managed to overexpose the direct sun a bit more than I wanted to ... not as well handled this time as the sunlight in the last round of ZS3 versus F70EXR tests.

I do love to see leaves hanging and try to get a nice sharp image of them with the background quite blurred ... this particular image does that quite nicely.

As I walked along, I stopped at another pile of seeds and of course there were more birds around. I caught this little fellow sitting there for about 5 seconds :-)

Since we're now in the words, ISO has gone from 360 for that first Chickadee to 3600 here in the deep woods! What a difference. Still a decent image, but at this point I'm going to have some reduced dynamic range.

The next bird was caught at take off and I quite like this pose. This was shot at 1/500s, as they all were ... it surprises my how fast these fellas really move.

As I walked along, I noticed that the sun had come out from behind misty clouds and was putting on a bit of a show, very low in the sky.

In that image, you can see the sun dancing along the snow ... and you can see the trail markers that show the direction to walk plus the seal of the National Capital Commission, the big land owner in the city for these public parks and trails.

I'm a bit of a sucker for piles of fresh snow and the contours you can capture if you get the exposure just right ... around stumps you can see some nice images.

And through trees ...

And as I passed the sanctuary building, I came to the tall stump at which I photographed that cute little squirrel a few weeks ago during round 2 of the ZS3 versus F70EXR tests. The baby squirrel was there, but he was skittish and retreated to his favorite tree the instant I came into view.

He moved up to about 15 feet, so I shot upwards with the lens at 300mm and then again at 200mm. I wanted to see if there was any significant difference in sharpness, and while there might have been some difference in micro-contrast, it was not enough to make up for the magnification difference.

I continued towards the pond and stopped to admire a long leaf on the path. It looked pretty nice ...

Shortly thereafter I came to a spot where a lone sapling stood at the side of the trail. The lighting was nice so I shot that too ...

I shot straight down the trail from here and ended up going black and white again because the sun and colors just didn't do it for me.

As I approached the pond, I spotted a cute little pine bough (maybe it was a baby tree) in the snow.

And right next to the junction to the boardwalk that overlooks the beaver pond is a stream and swamp area where bull rushes grow like weeds, which I suppose they are :-)

With the beaver pond on my left, I face the extension of the boardwalk that crosses the swampy area and connects to the Kingston Trail, which -- you guessed it -- goes all the way to Kingston, Ontario on Lake Erie.

Up on the platform over looking the pond, I see a lot of rushes on my left. Poking the lens through the fence, I am able to get down to their level and get this shot ... with rushes receding into the distance. I like the bokeh on this ...

Looking out onto the pond, you can see where the beaver lodge is .... right center. Most of it is under the ice of course.

You only see a bit of grass outlining it, so here is a closer look.

Along the near edge of the pond, quite a bit of grass has stayed upright despite its hibernation and the snows.

There are a few conifers around the platform, in fact the right side of the platform is all trees, with no view of the swamp in that direction.

There's more of that beautiful snow again ... I'm pretty addicted to trying to capture nice images of snow.

On the way out now to continue around the trail, I photograph the rushes on the north side of the trail.

The little stream that crosses under the board walk is frozen and covered with a dusting of snow. Looks kind of pretty ....

And then I turn left to continue around the trail ... moving north now. I come across a nice stand of logs that create a nice composition just as they are.

There are quite a few logs along the way that appear to be hollowed out ... by animals perhaps, insects or disease are other possibilities. I'm sure someone mor ein tune with nature would recognize the cause instantly ... but I don't.

I reach the main swamp viewing area a while later. In summer, this is a large shallow pond ... almost small lake sized. But only a foot or two deep. It grows a lot of bull rushes, which survive into winter, creating kind of a cool landscape.

As I approach the boardwalk to the main platform on the swamp, I note the prominence of Birch trees. I am presuming Birch because they look a little big to be Poplar. But I could be totally full of crap here :-)

A fallen tree gives me the chance to capture the snow yet again.

And from the raised platform on the swamp, I can get an image of only rushes going off into the distance.

That's ISO 5600 by the way ... it's getting pretty dark. Of course, at this point I am brain farting and have not dialed the aperture wide open ... I pay for that later on ...

Just after the swamp, I came across the telltale signs that some animal or other was brought along to walk in the woods. I don;t think they are allowed here, but apparently that did not spot someone ...

I again walk by a nice leaf hanging there screaming to be shot ...

And nearby there are some Chickadees doing their thing. One stops on a branch about 10 feet above my head ... this is too tempting to resist, so I get a nice shot of his underbelly. And he does not even make me pay by bombing me :-)

On this part of the trail, there are a lot of trees that have been felled, and not by beavers. This one was cut down it looks like this past summer ...

This one is more typical ... probably felled by weather ... maybe with a bit of help from the beavers, although I see no chew marks.

As I near the end of the trail, I come upon a feeder that is no doubt kept stocked through the winter for the Chickadees. They are so cute :-)

Now ... that Chickadee image was shot at the rather stunning ISO of 12,800! I shoot on auto ISO and I allow the camera to go that high right now because I am still in testing mode. The issue here, though was that I left the lens stopped down to f/9 ...

Had I dropped it to f5.6, that would be 1 and 1/3 stops, which would push the shutter speed from 1/320s to about 1/800s. But since I tell the cam that my minimum shutter speed is 1/500s with the long lens, it would have dropped ISO by about 2/3 stops to around ISO 8000. And I could have dropped the minimum shutter to 1/250s and got that to 6400 ISO ... as I said earlier, this is the price of a brain fart.

Still ... the image is not too bad. I did a bit of heroic processing with ACR and then Topaz Denoise 3 though ... and one thing to note is that this high ISO messes with dynamic range quite a bit so the whites on the face have lost some tonality.

The next image is one of my faves from this walk ... a Chickadee at the beginning of a takeoff ... so cool ...

Also 12,800 ISO ... but the blur comes from his fast movement ...

And then I was walking again ... 30 feet from the feeder, I turn a corner and there is the bird sanctuary.

As I walked out I stopped to capture an image of the icicles on the edge of the roof ... and I caught an image of two droplets that happened to fall in sync ... that has to have some pretty low odds.

So ... a lovely walk in the woods. Not much wildlife, but enough to have some fun. I need to either shoot on brighter days or get myself a fast long lens ... perhaps an 80-200 2.8 ...


drpankajshukla said...

Lovely walk in the woods !I wonder how u manage to let the mounds of snow maintain their own visual identity while also managing to have detail on the darker [tree/leaves] surfaces !

Do u have a page on your workflow ?Or a page on pping techniques /

Kim Letkeman said...

Thanks. I don't have a page or tutorial on pp techniques, although I may write that up some day. Meanwhile, I generally load all images into ACR and tweak contrast to maintain detail everywhere. I also tweak sharpness and NR and such (at 100%) and then low to CS4 in 16 bit mode. There, I use curves to increase contrast just in the snow. Then I process everything else ... some local contrast to boost detail on the trees, some global contrast adjustments to get the balance of the image just right ... that sort of thing.

drpankajshukla said...

Thanks for your response !
We do not have snow in our part of the world [mainly tropical climate ]but maintaining detail in the dark as well as bright sections of the image is often difficult ! this is even more when shooting jpegs !all your images maintain the balance ![without manifesting the the stress and strain of pping at all !]
I hope we will not have to wait too long for your articles on pping !