Tag: nature photography

Hummingbird at feeder

Photographing Hummingbirds

If you have hummingbirds around your garden, you should set yourself a project to photograph them. It’s surprisingly easy. In fact, hummingbirds may be the easiest of all birds to photograph. Interested? Read on…

Maybe you don’t have hummingbirds around, but are they in your neighbourhood? Check with the gardener in your neighbourhood. There’s always someone on the block who spends a little more time planting colourful flowers – they’ll know if there are ‘hummers’ around. If there are, you’re in luck!

It’s too late in the season to plant hummingbird-friendly flowers (do that next year!), so start by setting up a hummingbird feeder. They are inexpensive and easy to maintain. We bought ours at Wild Birds Unlimited who have very helpful information about attracting hummers’ and looking after your feeder. As far as nectar goes, you can buy the commercial nectar, but really a 1:4 sugar-to-water mixture is fine (even Audubon recommends it). That’s 1 cup refined white sugar in 4 cups of tap water. The water does not need to be boiled or boiling as sugar dissolves in room temperature water. Mix it up and store it in the fridge because you want to change it every few days, especially when it’s hot out. And remember – do not use food colouring! It is not necessary and could be harmful.

You’ll need to find a way to suspend your hummingbird feeder. At my parents’ cottage, dad simply screwed a cup hook to the underside of the deck railing and the hummers’ come by the whole time we are out there. We can’t do that in our back garden, so we purchased a ‘shepherd’s hook’ from Wild Birds Unlimited to hang our feeder. Note: WBU also offers a window feeder.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male (Archilochus colubris)With your hummingbird feeder hung, all you need now is a bit of patience as there’s no guarantee they’ll come. In past years, we’ve had great success, but this year not so much. We saw hummers at our flowers early in the summer, so put out the feeder and we’ve not seen them since. Go figure! So, why am I telling you this discouraging news? Well, it’s important to be reminded that nature can be fickle!

While waiting for the hummers to show up, you can be getting your gear ready. You can shoot hummers with just about any lens of 200mm or longer. That would mean something longer than the average “kit” lens that may have come with your DSLR (typically a 14-42mm, 18-55mm, 16-80mm, or 24-120mm). If you’re shooting 4/3s then you’ll need at least a 100mm; 140mm or longer for APS and 200mm or longer for full-frame. You may have success with a point-and-shoot with longer lens, but the problem then becomes shutter delay – the delay between pushing the shutter release and the camera activating the shutter. With more professional ‘bridge’ cameras (Sony RX-10iii and iv or the Panasonic FX1000 or 2500), you will not have that problem. This is the time to test things out to ensure they work for you.

Hummingbirds will tolerate you getting fairly close (2 to 3 metres, sometimes closer) as long as you are not moving. I typically sit in a deck chair to photograph them, but they don’t like me raising the camera to my eye. Either I set the camera up on a tripod or I hand hold my rig with my arm resting on the armrest of the chair.

Don’t try to fill the frame with the hummingbird as that will give you less tolerance for catching quick movements. What I’ve found is that hummingbirds will often pause and hover just off the feeder before going in to sip. Often they will rest on the feeder while drinking, then back off, hover and go. I try to capture them when they are hovering, I pre-focus on the “rest” or on the edge of the feeder.

I also carefully watch where in the frame the hummingbird is typically positioned then set my focus point for that location. There is less ‘hunting’ so focus is acquired instantly. Note: I also use back focus, having set the focussing to the AE-L/AF-L button where my thumb is, pre-focussing then shooting. This can be tricky without the hummingbird there, but consider the first few visits to the feeder as chances to set focus as the hummers are very predictable in how they return to the feeding port. Photos look more natural without the feeder, though you may want a few with the feeder to show your friends.

Some may deem this to be unacceptable, but one trick is to cover the ports with cling film except for the port you want the hummingbird to feed at. This will allow for many more successful shooting opportunities in the same amount of time.

If you are photographing hummers at flowers, then you’re patience quota will need to be raised considerably as you will never know which flower the hummer will go to next. This will mean fairly rapid re-framing and focussing each time a hummingbird comes by.

Typically, hummingbirds will visit your feeder quite regularly – possibly every 5 to 10 minutes. Early in the season they are feeding their young. Once the young fledge, you will have both adults and juveniles at the feeder. So, over the space of an hour, you should have plenty of opportunities to capture that ideal pose. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out the first time. Analyse what you did capture and make adjustments. Were you too close? Too far? Did you have difficulties focussing? Composing? Was your shutter speed too slow or did you not have enough depth of field?

As is always the case with photography, there is a technical side, which is often at odds with what we want. With my set-up, I aim to have a shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/500 at, ideally, f/11, with an ISO no higher than 400 on the APS camera and 800 on the full-frame, to avoid too much ‘grain’ from pixels. 1/250 to 1/500 freezes the body of a hovering hummer, but gives the wings some motion; f/11 provides the necessary depth of field for this kind of magnification (f/16 would be even better). A smaller aperture of f/22 soften the image due to defraction and make the background too busy.

Setting exposure may take a few trial-and-error shots, particularly if the bird is sunlit with a darker background. Check for blinking highlights and the histogram then use exposure compensation to reduce those highlights.

What about flash? Yes, by all means try it. I have used flash, but find the birds look unrealistically static. There is also the difficulty of balancing the exposure of the flashlit hummer with the background. There are many photos of hummingbirds with a black backgrounds, but they look unrealistic and lack depth.

The few times I have used flash, I’ve set my exposure using the background then applied –1 exposure compensation to mute it. Then I’ve set up the flash also with a –1 setting to tone down the highlights. BUT – the lighting considerations are different in each case and your rig will differ from mine, so I encourage you to experiment. The other recommendation is to get the flash off-camera to provide some directional side lighting, something that I am not an expert on, so I will defer to photographers like Nate Chappell.

At times, you will see aerial acrobatics and aerial ‘dogfights’ between competing males. This is not unusual and can be quite exciting to watch. Good luck photographing it, though Nate Chappell has had some great successes. Check out his photos.

So, give it try! If you’re successful, add a comment below and email me photo to add to this post. You could also ‘Buy Me a Coffee‘ using this link or the handy Ko-Fi link to the right.

Happy summer!

Helpful Links:

Brant Camera Club!

Yesterday evening I presented “My Own Backyard” to the Brant Camera Club in Brantford, Ontario.

Regular readers will know of my passion for shooting locally – starting literally right in your own backyard and using it as an exploratorium for testing new equipment, ideas and ways of seeing. Taking that one step further, you can explore local parks and conservation areas (or downtowns for street photography) throughout each of the four seasons, year after year. Over time, you begin to develop a deep knowledge of where potential subjects are and how far along they are in their annual growth, allowing you to predict just when to be out looking. As well, being nearby, you can become the “expert” and be on site when the light is spectacular.

Part of my presentation also dealt with The Nature Photographer’s Toolkit ©, exploring the four realms of the craft of photography: Ambient Conditions, Aesthetic Elements, Technical Controls and Post-capture Processing. As promised, here is the graphic I use to illustrate the myriad options available to photographers each time you consider setting up a shot. Going through, in your mind, this “Rolodex” of ideas and perspectives helps you to consider different ways of capturing subjects and scenes.

Thanks BCC for inviting me and I hope we can do this again sometime!

 

GRIPS K-W Presentation follow-up

Many thanks to the folks at the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society for hosting my presentation tonight. There are many excellent photographers whose questions and discussion added well to the evening.

A few people inquired about the “Nature Photographer’s Toolkit” I created to help organize ideas around how to approach scenes and subjects in nature photography. I’ve added a copy of the slide below. I hope it serves as a useful guide and reminder to explore a number of different avenues when in the field and in front of a screen.

Remember: Three-quarters of the effort in making photographs is done in the field before the shutter is released and half again occurs on-screen, for every compelling photo is greater than the sum of its parts.

KW-GRIPS: Monday, Nov. 13

Join me at the regular Monday meeting of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society where I will be presenting Shaping Landscape and Nature Photographs.

Much of the “shaping” of photographs begins in the field with the assembling of various compositional elements to take the scene from a simple snapshot to a thoughtful creation by the photographer. As artists, it’s important to at least take into consideration angle of light, perspective and angle of view, all the while making active use of visual design elements in the scene, such as leading lines and framing elements, to create dynamic compositions that guide viewers through the scene.

Shaping continues in post-capture processing with the use of selected processing adjustments including graduated masks and adjustment brushes. My sincere belief is that ¾ of the work happens before the shutter is released and ½ the work happens afterwards because every good photograph is, in fact, greater that the sum of its parts, the difference being the effort and visual skill the photographer adds in the making of each photograph.

I hope you can join me Monday evening at 7:30pm for some inspiration and perhaps a new way of looking at photography. Meetings are held at the Kitchener East Presbyterian Church at 10 Zeller Drive, Kitchener. I hope to see you there!

Halton Hills Camera Club – Nov. 1st

On Wednesday, November 1, I will be visiting the Halton Hills Camera Club to present “My Own Backyard”.

As regular readers will already know, I’m a strong advocate for photographers becoming experts in the places they know best – those that are close to home. First of all, your own backyard is a great incubator and test location for equipment, ideas and techniques. But around your home, you’ll have your favourite haunts – the places you return to throughout the year: downtown areas for street photography or local conservation areas for nature and landscapes. Even commuting to work and back may open up opportunities. The thing is, you can get to these places when you anticipate the light or weather conditions to be just right for the style of photograph you’re looking for.

Any way, I don’t want to give it all away. The club meeting starts at 7pm at St. George’s Church, 60 Guelph Street in Georgetown. Hope to see you there!

London Camera Club – Field & Screen

This past week I was in London, Ontario enjoying the hospitality and good will of the London Camera Club. This is a vibrant and welcoming club that successfully offers programs to a wide range of photographers from beginners to highly experienced shooters – a tall order, well-achieved. Have a look at their website for some truly excellent and creative photography.

On Thursday evening…

…I spoke about exploring “My Own Backyard”. Despite having travelled and lived in many exciting locations around the world, I always come back to the importance of each of us being “experts” in our own backyards. After all, we are surrounded by landscapes and nature here in southern Ontario and we have four seasons in which to make very different and unique photographs.

Photographed two weeks ago on my way in to work.

Quite literally, our backyards become our “playground” for trying new equipment, new techniques and new ways of seeing. One can dash out, take a few shots, with a new lens or trying focus-stacking for example, then head back in, upload and being working on images within minutes. Or, simply, spend a few hours exploring shapes and colours in the garden at various points through the year. But, your backyard can also be stretched, and should be, really, to local conservation areas, country roads and, if you prefer cityscapes in your city’s downtown. Every city now has a few dilapidated buildings waiting for an empathetic eye. Over the years, I’ve made some very memorable photographs on my drive to work and have been visiting the Arboretum at the University of Guelph for 30 years of photographic inspiration.

Saturday…

was devoted to a “Field and Screen” workshop: a few hours in the morning out at Westminster Ponds followed by a few more hours in the afternoon processing images from the morning. It was pleasing to see a number of photographers using tripods – cumbersome, but necessary, as we had a slightly dull, humid, misty morning with the constant threat of rain as well as some fall colours to accent our photographs. I was also encouraged by the comments from participants who had never explored close to home like this. So often, we get comfortable with the views and scenery around us and we stop seeing them for their uniqueness. We forget that although they are the “same old, same old” to us, they are new for others, especially when we apply our photographic eye to bringing out the details others have stopped seeing. This is the beauty of working close to home.

I’ve posted a gallery of photographs I made during the workshop. I’ve added a couple of Before/After screenshots to show the initial imported “from the camera” raw image versus the “finished” screen image. I’ve also included some “Detail” photographs; these are cropped portions of larger photographs which, in themselves are engaging views I would have liked to spend more time exploring.

Thanks to Matt Litwinchuk for organizing the evening presentation and Saturday’s workshop and to Bill Niessen for his technical troubleshooting duirng the afternoon Screen session.

If you have any questions about the shooting or processing – please ask! As well, comments are always welcome. If you want to keep in touch regarding workshops, just subscribe to my blog using the panel to the right.

It’s Fungus Time in Southern Ontario

Beware – there’s fungus among us! The mushrooms are out in the forests of southern Ontario! Get out your tripod and your knee pads and get down in the leaf litter from some great close-up photography. But don’t forget your bug repellent, because the mosquitoes are still out there!

The last two weekends, my wife Laura and I have been out along the Bruce Trail. If you’re not familiar with the Bruce Trail, it is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath travelling from Niagara Falls in the south along the Niagara Escarpment some 890km to Tobermory in the north. There are dozens of places along the trail to park and hike for a day, often associated with the various conservation areas and provincial parks along the Escarpment, but also along roadsides and at car parks built expressly for Trail users. I would encourage you to make good use of the Bruce Trail for access to some of the most photogenic sites in southern Ontario. But, being a volunteer-maintained trail, consider also becoming a member of the Bruce Trail Conservancy, purchasing the Reference Guide book or Trail app (iOS and Android) or making a contribution to the Conservancy so they can continue their good work keeping the trail up and acquiring more parcels of land to protect the optimum route of the trail.

Our first hike was the Speyside section (east of Guelph, north of Milton, just east of former Hey 25), where we saw the first few mushrooms. Between Bruce Trial hikes, we’ve also been to the Arboretum at the University of Guelph where there are a few different types of fungus. I hesitate to call them all mushrooms as some of what you’ll see are cup fungus, coral fungus, puffballs and slime moulds. Don’t they sound delightful? Beyond that, I’m not at all familiar with the various types of fungus and know very little about the names except for the ones I have looked up.

Saturday was a fungus bonanza, though. We were northeast of Shelburne along a stretch of the Bruce Trail between Boyne River Provincial Park and the Mulmur Hills. The summer has been on the cool and wet side which seems ideal for fungus as well as various species of moss and lichen. There were over a dozen different kinds of fungus and, as our intent was to hike, I only stopped to photograph a few.

So if you have a couple of hours to spare and don’t mind getting your knees dirty, head out to a local woodlot or forest and try your hand (and your patience) with photographing fungus. The nice thing is, they don’t move, so the long exposure times needed for the dark forest floor are not a problem as long as you are using a tripod and cable release or self-timer. Take your time, though, as the set-up and precise focussing can sap your patience.

If you are into trying new techniques, mushrooms are also a good subject to practice the technique of focus-stacking (excellent tutorial here). The files are not something you can process in Photos or Lightroom – you’ll need Affinity Photo (video tutorial) or Photoshop to finish the job. I’ve been experimenting with the technique and may start to use it more, but, for now, I’m still making the majority of my close-up shots the regular way by choosing a small aperture (ƒ22 for full frame; ƒ5.6 to 8 for 1″ sensor) and making a single shot.

Setting up low to the ground and with a tripod is not easy. Before going out, work with your tripod to learn what it’s capable of, and what it cannot do. Some tripods allow the legs to spread out completely, but then you are limited by the centre post. The Manfrotto 055 tripod I recently purchased has a centre post that can be set at a 90° angle – ideal for shooting close-ups near to the ground – and it really works well!

When I’m out hiking, as I was yesterday, rather than bringing the whole kit with D800E, lenses and 055 tripod, I often bring my Sony RX10iii with the monopod portion of my MeFoto RoadTrip tripod. This is a good set-up, but not ideal as I end up having to use ISO 400 and some pretty slow shutter speeds along with the excellent stabilization, to shoot close-up. The Chanterelle above was shot at ƒ5.6 @ 1/13, ISO 400 with a polarizer on the RX10iii on the monopod. It took a few shots to ensure everything was sharp, but I sure wish I had my tripod for this. I think next time I’ll at least have the full MeFoto tripod with me for just a situation like this.

If you can’t get down lower than the shortest leg setting, then think about using a telephoto lens and shooting from further away. As it is, the best close-up/macro lenses for this kind of work are in the 90mm to 150mm range. If you can focus closely enough, a 200mm focal length lens makes an ideal working distance for close-up photography. Again, set this up at home – try practicing on some flowers or even chess pieces. When out in the field, be aware of branches and leaves that may be between the lens and the mushroom that may not be visible in the viewfinder.

Once you’ve found the ideal mushroom in the forest – before you set up the tripod – hand-hold your camera and spend some time finding just the right angle and view. Composition is best done off the tripod; once you’ve found that perfect angle, set up the tripod “under” that point and attach your camera. Adding a polarizing filter will help reduce the glare off wet foliage or smooth bark and leaves.

One cautionary note: Do not pick and eat any of the mushrooms. As delectable as they may look – and they may even look exactly like a mushroom you remember eating – don’t take the chance. There are too many “look-alikes” that might just send you to Emergency!

If you have any questions or comments, please add them below. And I invite you to share this post with others. Thanks for reading!

Gallery
Click on any image and use the > < arrows (or your cursor keys) to navigate through.

Lake Superior VI: Chutes, again

I hate those shirts that say, “Been there. Done that.” That’s the problem with tourism these days – too many people choking up incredible places just so they can tick their list of things they’ve “done” – once – never to return, never to really experience the place. That’s not travel, it’s listing, like so many birdwatchers adding to their Life Lists.

My other peeve with this, is the word “do” in association with visiting a place. “Oh, we did Stonehenge” or “Oh we’ve done Machu Picchu”. Most of the time, they didn’t do anything but sit on a coach, get out, walk around for a few minutes, buy their souvenirs then off to the next place to “do”. Again, that’s not travel, it’s listing. Oh, am I repeating myself? There’s a message there!

Okay – rant over…

To break up the drive back to the hamster cage of southern Ontario, we decided to stop at Chutes Provincial Park again. Yes, we were there on the way up – what could there possibly be to photograph if we’ve “done” it already?!? 🙂 As a photographer, I know how important it is to return to places I’ve already visited. Things change: the light, the time of day, my frame of mind, my way of seeing; and, over a year or many years, the seasons. I can’t count how many times I’ve “done” the Arboretum at the University of Guelph over the 35 years since I first attended Uni, and I think I can confidently say, I’ve never come home without seeing something new and with a photograph I’d be happy to post or frame.

Having visited and experienced a place once, gives you “insider” information about what that place is like and where the light will fall at different times of the day. Hopefully, on your first visit, you consciously made notes (literally or figuratively) about what isn’t working that time and may work better in different conditions. Or, perhaps there’s a part of it you didn’t fully explore. These all factor into returning to places. This second time, Chutes proved to be well worth the stop.

The evening we arrived didn’t amount to much. We mostly scouted for the next morning. I felt moved to make one serious photo (right), but I knew it would be repeating the theme of a waterfall at dusk; a different waterfall, but nothing really new. However, our scouting hike gave us the opportunity to envision places to photograph tomorrow.

The next morning dawned clear and we headed straight out, each to slightly different locations. That’s one of the reasons I like working with Kerry: we are both independent in our thinking and our photography, rarely working the same scene or, if we do, usually from different angles. We can be on the same trail, yet not see each other for an hour or more.

In the gallery below are photographs from the three different set-ups I worked on in the morning; two are similar, from the same set-up; I just can’t decide yet which framing I prefer. I’ve also included the one from the previous evening.

Making Cascade was a lengthy process of working with different shutter speeds to get just the right flow of water. While “chimping“, I noticed this one photo had a wash of water over the foreground rock – the only one like it. I tried replicating this with a slightly longer shutter speed, but the flow of water only did this every 5 minutes or so and my timing just wasn’t as good as the serendipity of the initial frame like this.

The photographer Weegee is credited with the phrase “ƒ8 and be there” as the first rule of photography. I couldn’t agree more, because once you’re there, serendipity has a chance to play its role. As a family, we came to recognize the importance of serendipity during our travels when we lived in Africa. Going out on “game drives” was all about timing: a Cheetah on a termite mound; hyenas gathered at kill; a wildebeest giving birth; elephants wandering amongst our tents. So we’ve continued to be open to serendipity and, more importantly, being out there to experience it. You just never know when things might go from exciting to magical.

You can lview all the photos I’ve posted from Lake Superior 2017 on my Flickr account. Please share the link and this post, and feel free to comment, question and add constructive criticism.

Thanks for reading.

Lake Superior V: B&W

I love black-and-white. Perhaps it’s because, like every photographer of my age, I “cut my teeth” on black-and-white. Thank goodness digital has not changed that. In fact black-and-white is better now than it ever has been. We are no longer tied to using colour filters – yellow, orange, red – to enhance tones of the same colour over their opposites. Nor are we tied to buying, mixing, storing, using and breathing in the chemicals needed for a darkroom. Then, there’s the water use: hours of washing negs and prints with constantly running water? I can’t even conceive of it anymore.

Figure 1

The conceptual part of making of a black-and-white photograph is perhaps a bit more difficult today. As we live in a colour world and digital cameras produce colour files, I find it more difficult to switch my brain into “black-and-white mode”. As we no longer put a roll or a sheet of B&W film into the camera, and we no longer use the colour filters, there isn’t that physical “trigger” to ignore the colour and concentrate on the tones, the shapes, the textures. Having been schooled in B&W, I find I can make the switch, but it’s definitely more difficult. I imagine those who have never worked in a B&W world may find it considerably more difficult. Often, though, it’s the scene that tells me, “I’m a black and white!”

Figure 2

Without colour, a scene must speak through tones, textures and contrast. It doesn’t need to start off monotone, but the photographer must carefully understand how colours will translate to shades of grey. Two very different colours; the orange and blue in a sunset, for example, will often become a single or two very similar grey tones (Fig 1). Back in the film days, when colour filters were used, a yellow or orange filter would be selected to brighten the yellows and oranges and darken the blues. This is now done in the digital processing stage using an app such as Lightroom (see Fig 2). While virtually any scene can be photographed and processed for black-and-white, as was the case for decades before colour film was commonly available, some scenes “work” better than others.

More so than colour, light plays a key role in black and white. Under soft lighting conditions of an overcast day, it can be difficult to properly separate the middle tones to prevent them from becoming “muddy”. That’s where the “darkroom” work comes in. Previously, we would boost the film by giving it N+1 or N+2 development and, perhaps use a higher contrast paper. In harshly-lit conditions, we would process film at N-1 or N-2 and/or use lower contrast paper. Now, in Lightroom, we adjust a combination of tone curves, contrast, clarity, white and black points, shadows and highlights to recreate our vision from the field. We’re doing the same thing as before, but using tools that allow for finer adjustment.

Some of the black-and-whites below you may recognize from previous posts as colour photos. Try not to compare them to the colour photos as too often, colour “wins” if only due to familiarity. Try to see the B&W photographs as something different. Black-and-white photographs encourage you to look beyond the obvious to see the textures and shapes that create a scene.

After viewing the gallery, please leave a comment, ask a question or offer constructive criticism; and take a moment to share this post with others. Thanks for reading.

Lake Superior IV: Pukascapes

The undulating, uneven, irregular profile of the Canadian Shield is iconic and unique. It’s the result of a couple of billion years of erosion. To put it into perspective, that’s billion, as in 2,000,000,000 years – long before anything we see today as life had evolved: before the dinosaurs, before the reptiles and fish and long before plants – before there were any multicellular organisms. All there were 2 billion years ago were bacteria and eukaryotes – single-cells with just the mere basics of even being a cell. No protozoans, no amoebas.

Making a photograph that portrays the nature of the Canadian Shield is, for me, a quest. In fact, the photographic goal I set for myself in anyplace I visit is to find that quintessential image that captures the essence of place. But what aspects of the Shield must be considered for the photograph to reflect the quintessence of the place? The distinct profile, for one; the rock itself, the boreal forest and, because water has played such a huge role in shaping the Shield, a lake. A tall order, and one I didn’t quite achieve in a single photograph, but I think I came close. Judge for yourself.

I think my more insightful photographs are those of the details of the rock and vegetation of Pukaskwa showcased in my previous blog, Lake Superior III. But the eye candy is in the sunrises and sunsets you’ll see below. I know, I know. ABS – Another Bloody Sunset. It’s not like I don’t already have 56,000 of them. But, what can I say; they truly are wondrous. And the final ones, shot from the Headland Trail, capture the essence of the Lake Superior coast.

Enjoy! And please consider sharing this post with others who enjoy photography.