Canon EF 1.4x III Extender review using Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 Mark II

I was walking towards the jetty at Kumbhargaon near Bhigwan in India to photograph birds. It would be the day when I will use the 1.4 extender for the first time—It’s a Canon 1.4 extender Mark III on a Canon 100-400 Mark II lens. Now my 400 millimeter 5.6 lens is a 560 F8 lens, 1 stop down.

I will be able to autofocus at F8 on a Canon 7D Mark II body using the centre point and four assist points.

Now I know what you’re thinking—it’s a bad idea to use an extender on this lens—but I have a plan. I’m going to photograph birds in flight against the bright blue sky when the sun’s out. So that way I won’t need a ridiculously high ISO for a fast shutter speed.

I’ve never done this before so I’m looking forward to seeing the results; so let’s watch the video.

I have more wildlife vlogs on my Youtube Channel, The Open Image.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Wildlife photography | Tigers at Bandhavgarh National Park

This is a story about a sub-adult tiger called “Banbehi-male-cub”, one of three cubs of “Banbehi-female” and “Mangu” from that generation. There was some unusual tiger behavior going on at the time when we saw Banbehi-male-cub and one of his siblings.

This vlog also tells us how tigers get their names, and what it’s like to go on safaris to Bandhavgarh National Park during summer.

The morning safari at Bandhavgarh starts at 5:30 during the summer. It had stopped raining at 5 o’clock when our safari jeep came to pick us up and we were on our way!

The sun came out angry after the rains that morning and Bandhavgarh went into a state of sublimation.

After four and a half hours of driving around in the heat we hadn’t seen a single tiger—and were on our way out. Then our luck changed. 

”Banbehi-male-cub” appeared. He had turned two years old, and was at a stage in his life when tigers leave their parents and siblings and embark on their own independent journeys—proclaiming territories and seeking mates.

A few days earlier, his mother, “Banbehi-female” had another litter. 

Tigers get their names either from the area where they were first spotted, or by their appearance or behavior. Banbehi is the name of a river that flows in this female tiger’s territory—and that’s how she got her name.

Now tigers don’t meet their cubs from previous litters when they have a new litter but Banbehi-female would meet these subadult cubs from her previous litter.

These meetings continued for about a month after the new cubs were born.

Mangu, a large male tiger was the father of both these litters—that’s the only reason why this was possible. 

Of course the newborn cubs were away in a secret  cave far away from Banbehi-male-cub and his siblings otherwise they would have been killed by the previous generation. 

The almost burnt out areas of this photo remind me of the heat that morning.

I have more wildlife vlogs on my Youtube Channel, The Open Image.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Bird photography | Bharatpur bird sanctuary

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is a man-made wetland, was owned by the Maharaja of Bharatpur. In the second half of the 1800s the Maharaja used to hunt birds here, now it’s a protected national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the richest bird parks in the world.

In January, we see more species of birds than in any other month. One can easily spot over a hundred and fifty different species in just a few hours!

I like to visit Bharatpur in the third week of January. The park is less crowded at that time of the year because the holidays are over and people are back to work, school and college. In January we see more species of birds than in any other month. One can easily spot over a hundred and fifty different species in just a few hours!

One afternoon I was walking along a little mud trail along with my guide, Govind. We were looking at cormorants drying their wings. But Govind wanted me to see something else…there was something small and black sitting on the trail in front of us!

It looked at us and flinched. It was a nervous couple of minutes for all three of us but eventually we settled down. The creature felt at ease and started walking round without a care about our presence.

Govind identified the creature as a juvenile painted stork. Juvenile painted storks look so much different from adults.

It sat there with bent feet and feathers tightened inwards. It looked cold. Like a small child running a temperature with no adult supervision.

Many hundred painted storks had made nests on top of bare trees. Trees that grew out of the wetlands to our right. Each nest had at least three chics in it. 

So then why was this little bird separated from the rest? Was it injured? It could walk, but will it ever fly again?

Govind assured us that it would. He said that the bird must have fallen from its nest into the water. It will be able to fly once its wings dry up. The water had made its wings heavy.

Lots of people had come to see birds in Bharatpur that day. So Govind suggested that we hang out with this little stork to ensure that nobody touched it, picked it up or injured it. It seemed to feel safe around us.

I was fully kitted out in a winter jacket and hood, yet I was freezing. I wondered how long it would take for the bird to dry up. 

30 minutes later, nothing had changed. It would walk for a couple of minutes and rest then walk some more and rest again. We clicked some photos and filmed some videos.

And then suddenly without warning, it flapped its wings and started to fly. It did a lap of honour, circling above us two times, before taking off for the skies and back to the safety of its nest.

Govind and I had the brightest smile on our face.

The lesson I learnt from this is that it is best to leave an injured-looking bird or an animal alone if I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I could do more harm than good because I’m not an expert in this field. 

I often remember this juvenile painted stork whom I named Eric and wonder where he is right now. Painted storks don’t migrate very far. So perhaps I have seen him all grown up on my subsequent visits to Bharatpur, but I don’t recognise him. I’d like to think that Eric always recognises me and remembers our afternoon together. I don’t know if it’s a he. It could be a she, she could be Erika! 

Being out in nature  makes us feel better emotionally, contributes to our physical wellbeing, reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Bird photogrphy | Spotted owlet at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

I had a Nikon D7200 camera with a 200-500 lens — and not a single photo was sharp. I had shutter speeds in excess of 1/1000th of a second, I tried holding the camera in different ways, using a monopod, adjusting my stance, pressing the camera harder against my cheek but the photos did not improve. The stabilisation on the lens couldn’t be faulty, could it?

In spite of being kitted out in thermal innerwear, a warm jacket, two pairs of gloves on each hand and a faux fur aviator hat on my head, I was still cold. 

Bhupendar showed up outside my hotel on time, at 6 o’clock. It was still dark and we were the first people to roll into Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary that morning. There was a thick fog in the air, and we couldn’t see very far into the distance.

There was no bird activity anywhere around us. Birds start getting active once the sun is out—because that’s when insects start coming out of their burrows to feed and birds can prey on them!

The occasional creaking sounds of Bhupendra’s pedals disturbed the silence as we continued to roll along the thoroughfare waiting for the sun to come out. 

When it got brighter we saw a spotted owlet sitting inside a hollow branch of a bare tree.

It looked very comfortable sitting there, and seemed unlikely that it would come out on a morning like this. I stood there making a few photos hoping that it would hop out—even if it were for a few seconds. I stood there under the tree and turned in the opposite direction to look at some green pigeons. 

“LOOK…LOOK…” there was a buzz in the air!

Our little owlet had flown out and perched in the open on the adjacent tree. And I gathered my wits and started clicking some photos, it did a little jig, as if it were grooving to a dance number of the nineteen nineties.

Wonderful! However my photos were not!

I had a Nikon D7200 camera with a 200-500 lens—and not a single photo was sharp. I had shutter speeds in excess of 1/1000th of a second, I tried holding the camera in different ways, using a monopod, adjusting my stance, pressing the camera harder against my cheek but the photos did not improve. The stabilisation on the lens couldn’t be faulty, could it?

It was a beautiful day for photography but I couldn’t make a single decent photo—and I couldn’t understand why! All my photos were out of focus.

A few months later, I went to Bandhavgarh National Park to see tigers — and even there I couldn’t get the sharpness that I expected out of my lens—no matter what I tried.

It was only when I got back from this trip that I realised what the problem was—it was the poor quality ultraviolet filter! I cannot tell you enough how important it is to use a good quality UV filter—what’s the point in using cheap filters on good lenses? It’s like driving around in a Ferrari with flat tyres!

I have more wildlife vlogs on my Youtube Channel, The Open Image.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Bird photography | Canon 7D Mark II camera, 100-400 mm Mark II lens

Passeriformes contain about half the total number of living birds that’s almost 6,000 species! We see about a thousand species of Passeriformes in the Indian Empire. Some are residents, others are seasonal visitors.

Passeriformes contain about half the total number of living birds. That’s almost 6,000 species.

Over two hundred and fifty species of birds — in a five square kilometer radius!

That’s Kumbhargaon — a fishing village that sits on the banks of the backwaters of Ujjani Dam. Less than 2,000 people live in this village — they encourage avian tourism and take us on their little boats to get closer to the birds.

On one of my visits to Kumbhargaon I was walking through the woods in the evening when I saw a Yellow-eyed Babbler bouncing from one twig to another and finally perched and looked straight at me—like a cartoon character who was very happy to see me.

That brought a bright smile to my face. It seemed to like me. Did you ever think that a bird or a wild animal liked you? Did you have such an experience?

A week later when I got back home and looked at the photo, I noticed a string of small eggs sitting on the underside of one of the twigs. The eggs were of some insect—and that’s what delighted the babbler more than my presence!

Very often I know nothing about the birds I see and photograph. But everytime I come home and look at my pictures, I learn something about them. I found out that babblers are Passerines—of the order Passeriformes—also known as songbirds or perching birds. 

Passeriformes contain about half the total number of living birds that’s almost 6,000 species! We see about a thousand species of Passeriformes in the Indian Empire. Some are residents, others are seasonal visitors.

Passerines can perch in awkward positions because of well adapted feet (the first toe faces backwards and three other toes face forward). 

This kind of an adaptation helped this Yellow-eyed Babbler reach its supper that evening.

More wildlife photography vlogs on my youtube channel, The Open Image.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Wildlife photography | Sariska National Park | Canon 7D Mark II, 100-400 II

We heard distress calls during all the five safaris and explored every vantage point we could, but we did not see a single tiger or a leopard.

This photograph reminds me what this whole experience felt like…so near, yet so far, in the dense jungle that is Sariska!

Sariska National Park is set in the Aravalli Mountains near Alwar in Rajasthan. Sariska is a dense jungle and we have never seen tigers or leopards during the winter, but that doesn’t stop us from trying!

We would stop by the central check post during every safari to exchange notes with other naturalists and come up with a strategy to find tigers. At this time babblers and treepies came within a foot of us.

We visited Sariska in the winter — in January 2020 days before the coronavirus hit India. It gets very cold in the winter in Rajasthan. I wore thermal innerwear, a warm jacket, two pairs of gloves on each hand and a faux fur aviator hat on my head, still, I couldn’t stop shivering! There was frost on the forest floor everywhere. 

We saw a large herd of sambar deer calling in distress. Now deer, monkeys, peacocks and other tiger prey sound distress calls when they see a predator. So obviously they could see a creature that threatened them! 

We circled the entire area trying to get a glimpse of a tiger or a leopard through the shrubs — but we couldn’t see it.
The next morning we saw this langur sitting high up on a tree and calling in distress (find sound clip). We explored the area for over half an hour but there wasn’t a big cat in sight.

Other babblers and treepies, bulbuls and parakeets helped themselves to a drink of water, at the water tank, by perching on the leaking tap and placing their beak under it. 

Watch the video for all the amazing visuals, more wildlife photography vlogs on my youtube channel, The Open Image.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Wildlife photography | Leopard, Panna | Canon 7D Mark II, 100-400 mm II

This was my first ever leopard sighting in the wild.

Tourists must not get off their jeeps in the jungle, except at a few designated spots where you can have breakfast and soak in panoramic views from high vantage points overlooking the canopy below. I’d like to clarify that this was a spot where we were allowed to alight. Our guide ended up standing less than fifteen feet away from this wild leopard!

I have dreamed of doing this since 2010. But I thought I wasn’t ready, or at least that I must sharpen my skills before takeoff.

So I took a creative writing class. And then another creative writing class. And classes on radio jockeying and writing scripts for radio, podcasting, business poise & social finesse, crash courses and workshops on ornithology and wildlife education. Somewhere in between all that I did more creative writing courses.

Still, I never got started.I purchased a ton of photography equipment that I thought was essential, only to find out that I could have done just as well with what I already had. I continued purchasing more stuff, sometimes importing items from America at twice their retail price.

But still, I never got started.

I’m ecstatic about launching my Youtube Channel, The Open Image before 2020 comes to an end. The last nine months have changed the way we learn and consume knowledge. It has taught us to appreciate small gifts.This first video is about the first time I saw a leopard in the wild, and how our guide ended up standing less than fifteen feet from it!I hope you like it.

Please share, thank you!

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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Wildlife photography | Russell’s viper snake | Canon 7D Mark II, 100-400 mm II

We continued rowing towards a flock of whiskered terns when suddenly something long and slim popped its head right out of the water, about a foot out. It was a snake — not any snake — one of the most venomous snakes in the world — Russell’s Viper!

That Russell’s Viper better not get into our boat! 

It was the 8th of November in 2017. I was on a boat photographing birds! During November and March we see over two hundred species of birds on and around a lake near Pune which is about a hundred and fifty kilometers away—93 miles.

The monsoons had lingered on until the end of October. The lake was brimming with bright blue water — and bright green water plants appeared to be glowing the glorious evening sun.

There were lots of dragonflies of different descriptions flying right in the middle of this big lake — far away from its shores. I found that very surprising — that a small creature like dragonflies were able to fly such large distances. But then I found out that female dragonflies lay their eggs in or near water, often on water plants. So all these water plants play an important role in the lives of dragonflies! 

We continued rowing towards a flock of whiskered terns when suddenly something long and slim popped its head right out of the water, about a foot out. It was a snake — not any snake — one of the most venomous snakes in the world — Russell’s Viper! That Russell’s Viper better not get into our boat! 

It kept popping its head right out of the water, looking at dragonflies sometimes playfully, sometimes lustfully. The dragonflies too seemed to fancy the Russell’s Viper — but they didn’t appear to be a match made in heaven!

I have more wildlife vlogs on my Youtube Channel, The Open Image.

Learn photography with Girish Menon

I teach photography online via live video calls—not pre-recorded videos that you sit and watch by yourself. You can be based anywhere in the world, own any camera, and still learn photography from me—HOW COOL IS THAT!

Please see www.girishmenon.com to know about the courses that I offer.

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