Category Archives: Photography

How I Photograph Hummingbirds


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“YOU took these?!”

Believe me, it was more a case of my friends being admitted into trauma care.  You know, in total shock as if their bodies had shut down after a major trauma when they realized these hummingbird pictures were taken by little ole old “shaky hand” me.

Well, after being discharged from trauma care, several of my friends asked, “Hey, did you really take these?”, still not believing I took them. “Okaay, Koj, then how did you take these hummingbird pictures?”

Well, I really didn’t have specific answers for them but I fumbled a couple up.

I guess it’s time to cough it up… literally.

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For me, I had never thought about photographing hummingbirds before this last February.  Yes, I had never taken photos of hummingbirds in my short long life.  Besides, there just weren’t many hummingbirds buzzing around my yard for me to get interested.

Well, my good next door neighbors had aloe plants growing very healthily alongside the sidewalk and driveway.  Starting in February, I noticed a couple of the hummingbirds feasting on the nectar on my neighbor’s aloe cactus’ flowers.  I was bored so I thought, “Why not?!”

As I begun this escapade, there was a lot of patient waiting, sitting in the sun in a beat up brown resin lawn chair with camera in hand waiting for those little friends to buzz by.  Cigar was going, too.  Indeed, some of my neighbors down the block must’ve been wondering, “What is that crackpot, stogie-smoking old Japanese man doing sitting out there in the sun on his driveway?!”

I only had my Canon 100mm macro lens to shoot with.  While I did snap a couple of shots with the 100mm, the first attempts photographically were dismal.  I wasn’t close enough to those little suckers most of all with the 100mm lens.  The hummers were like Tinkerbell against a Sequoia forest… sans the cute little green tights.

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My first attempts with a 100mm macro lens. Too far away and couldn’t get close enough.

Well, my other good neighbor across the street saw me shooting and I said I could use a longer lens.  Bingo.  He was a Canon user and had a lot more equipment than me!  He had an earlier model 200mm f/2.8 which he would lend me in exchange for a few stogies.  He was a cigar lover, too!  What a deal!

The results began to improve over the next few days.  Each opportunity helped fine tune the procedures.  There were a lot of bumps along the way.

  • First of all, the tiny buggers moved faster than my eyeballs.
  • Second, even if I were lucky enough to frame one in my viewfinder, they would stay in that certain spot for only a split second; a lot of times, I pressed the shutter when the bird was no longer there. That was because it took light years for my brain’s commands to jump through my well frayed synapses.
  • Third, my hands do shake and the lens didn’t have image stabilization, leading to fuzzy shots
  • Fourth, you had to be precise in targeting the focusing point for the auto-focus.  If the focus point was a wing, the entire bird would be out of focus.  That is because the wing is closer to the camera’s focal plane and there wasn’t enough depth of field to keep the hummer’s body beyond the wing in focus.
  • Fifth, bright sunlight made for desirable higher shutter speeds but it also resulted in harsh lighting.
  • Sixth and most importantly, my stogie kept going out.

Some of the results during and after the trial period were as follows:

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This was shot when the sun was overhead – not the best lighting condition. See procedural notes below.

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The Procedure

But in all seriousness, this is what I do when trying to shoot hummers:

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Essential equipment. A 54 ring maduro cigar.
  1. Select at least a 54 ring maduro cigar and light.  The hummers appear to like Dominican long fillers with a spicy ligero wrapper the most.  The wonderful smelling smoke was better than the sweetest nectar for the hummers… Trust me.  They love it.
  2. Set yourself within a half-foot of the minimum focusing distance for your lens from a choice bunch of flowers at that distance.  Seat yourself in a comfortable chair, ensuring the flowers you selected are at eye level.  (Note: I do not use a monopod or tripod.)  In my case, I was just about five feet away.  Its purpose is to fill the frame as much as possible with the hummingbird.
  3. Set your metering mode to aperture priority then your f-stop to wide open.  In the case of my lenses, it was f/2.8.  While the depth of field is incredibly tight, it allows for very good bokeh (i.e., the background will be thrown out of focus).
  4. Slightly depress your shutter button to check your shutter speed at f/2.8.  Adjust your ISO to a higher number until you see at least 1/2000th of a second.   Higher is better but no more than 1/5000th unless you want total stop action.  I like a little bit of wing blur to give the impression of action.  Besides, it looks more natural.  (You will of course get noise at the higher ISO but that can be edited down during processing.)
  5. Set your shutter mode to multi-exposure.  Ensure mirror lock is off.  (Note: if your camera has an adjustment for knocking down highlights – comes from glare off shiny parts of the flowers – select it.  It is “D+” on my Canon.)
  6. For the auto focus, I use a single point focus and do my best to put that focus point on the BODY (not the wings) of the hummer.  The eyes/throat are the best targets but with my aging reflexes, it was more miss than hit but the results were much, much better.  Using a broader focusing zone or AI option will make the camera attempt to focus on the moving wings or a more prominent flower petal.  With a narrow depth of field, the bird itself then will likely not be in focus.
  7. Sit.  Puff on the cigar to attract the little buggers.  Patience is the key.  As there are only a few hummers in my area, I sometimes sat for 90 minutes before one would come by.  Even then, it may not have been in my pre-selected focus area.

As for WHEN to shoot…  A bright overcast day was the best for me but now that it is summer, this is unlikely.  While you CAN, I would not recommend shooting when the sun is above you.  I would suggest early morning or late evening with the sun is lower in the sky.  This will cut down on harsh shadows and lighting.

Good luck!

ps For stunning collections of hummingbird photos, please see Cindy Knoke’s blog here!

(NOTE: True pros use an intricate flash setup with remote release and an artificial background.  Not only do I not have multiple flash units, I feel shooting with a naturally occurring background more pleasing.)

Just Some Snapshots 16


Although it’s February and climate experts said we’d have a helluva El Niño, it hasn’t really appeared.  Even if it starts to rain here and there from now, the deluge they’ve been warning us Southern Californians about for half a year will not materialize.

So the drought will continue…

In the meantime, I thought I’d take advantage of the clear blue skies and took some snapshots out in front.

Some winter hummingbirds.  They love the tree aloe blooms in my neighbor’s yard:

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Just a sprinkle:

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And there’s a bazillion of these Kalanchoe Lavender Scallops Variegata (Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi) blooming:

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This little succulent bloom is at the tip of thin, bright green stalks and is about maybe 1/3″ in diameter.  The photo below shows the blooms in different stages of opening.

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Just Some Snapshots #15


Some recent snapshots; tinkered with HDR this time.  Don’t ask me to explain HDR ‘cuz I have no idea!  I also don’t believe HDR is particularly suited for macro work but it intrigued me.  There does appear to be a difference – at least to these old bespectacled eyes.

Macro of a clematis flower right out of the camera (i.e., no editing):

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Unedited. Taken with Canon 70D, 100 mm macro lens, ISO 200, 1/2 sec at f/11

The photo below taken from identical camera position but with “HDR” settings.  It was subjected to some post-processing:

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Edited primarily for pollen and vignetting. A little color correction.

Other HDR shots:

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The following were shot with normal settings:

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c-10-341If your camera is capable, perhaps you’ll give HDR a shot as well.

She’s Killing Me #10


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“Noooo-ah!” But too late. She was the last person to get out of the car…again.

She’s killing me, I tell ya.

My Little Cake Boss Diva.

Even way up in Seattle.  Her killing me is not restricted to home.  It is unrelenting.

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While some of her photographs will be shown below, a quick she’s-killing-me story first.

We weren’t even in Seattle for three hours when the onslaught continued.  (Don’t think she didn’t try to kill me during the flight.  Even my warning her of plain clothes air marshals being on board didn’t deter her.).

After quickly checking in, we met my good friend Rick; like any good buddy, he treated my two kids and me to dinner.

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My good buddy Rick, a USAF veteran. He liked blowing things up. Still does… but all his Mustangs are slower than mine.

As I had brought some cigars for him but forgot them in the room, we had to return to the hotel.  While he and his gal waited in the lobby, I escorted the kids up to the room.

Knowing my Little Cake Boss Diva, I sternly said, “Brooke, do NOT touch anything, OK?”

“Okaaay-ah!” she replied… and I headed back down to the lobby, cigars in hand.

I wasn’t with him for more than fifteen minutes before I returned to the room.  Yes, I was worried she was up to something.

So I opened the door.  Wham.  A rush of frigid artic air hit me.  Mumbles (from Happy Feet) would have been pleased.

At the other end of the room, there she was on top of the air conditioner grill…sitting on a blue bed cover sheet with her butt square in the middle with her hands on either side trying to keep the sheet down.  She was attempting to stop the flow of air conditioned air blasting out of the A/C.  Talk about the Lucy Show.  She was Lucy.  I was Ricky, down to the “Ai-ya-yai, Lucy!”

Before I could yell, “Brooke!”, Jack immediately ratted out on his sister.

“Papa, she was doing something that she wasn’t supposed to and turned on the air conditioner!  She doesn’t know how to turn it off so it’s freezing in here!”  He was very pleased with himself for tattling.

Now I could yell, “Brooke!  I told you NOT to touch anything!”

“Hee-hee…” she replied with her trademark “I’m VERY innocent” smile making for a happy face complete with adorable chubby cheeks..

I turned off the air then she scampered over to the one cup coffee brewer.  What do you all that gizmo?  A Keurig?  Sure enough, there was one empty slot.  She had brewed herself some coffee.

19105232875_47cbae4ee2_o“Brooke!  What were you doing brewing yourself coffee?!  You don’t even know how to use that thing!”

“Welllll-ah!  I was freezing-ah!  And I can read (the directions) so I made myself something like a latte, okaaaay-ah?  Sheesh!”

She’s only twelve.  OMFG.

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Anyways, that’s one of her traits…besides doing the opposite of what I say.  She has to try everything…except clean her room.

So as in my previous post – and not being pleased with the way Jack was taking pictures – she commandeered my pretty new bazillion dollar Canon DSLR for pretty much the rest of the trip.

I only gave her one pointer: to cradle the lens with her left hand while shooting.  For once, she actually followed my instructions.

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c-10-340But anyways, here are some of her photos taken with my bazillion dollar camera:

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Jack and me at the bottom left.
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Handheld macro!
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Handheld macro!

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Handheld macro!

c-10-334c-10-328c-10-333c-10-331c-10-332So what do you think of her abilities?

Her photography… Not on how she’s killing me.

A 100 Year Then and Now Photo Project


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Grandfather Hisakichi and Grandmother Kono posing in Seattle with their first child, my Uncle Yutaka, in 1910.

My grandfather, Hisakichi Kanemoto, immigrated from Hiroshima in 1898 with my grandmother Kono coming in 1908 to become his picture bride.  They had seven children of which my dad is the last surviving sibling at 96 years of age.  Five of those children called “Hotel Fujii” their home at King and Maynard in Seattle, WA.  Sadly, Hotel Fujii is no longer standing.

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My two littlest kids and I took a short vacation trip to Seattle the week of June 22, 2015.  One project I tasked myself was to attempt putting together “then and now” recreations of family photos taken about 100 years ago. Well, mostly 90 years ago but 100 sounded better.  Yet, I was only partially successful; it was luck for the most part:

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(Clockwise) Grandmother Kono, Uncle Suetaro, an unknown girl and dad on tricycle.  Dad says the corner brick building had a butcher shop at street level.  Circa 1925.  Color image taken at King and Maynard, June 25, 2015.
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Looking east up King Street. You can see the “Hotel Fujii” signage extending out from the hotel above my Grandmother. Year unknown but post 1917.
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At King and Maynard. Clockwise from Grandmother: Aunt Shiz, Uncle Suetaro, Dad and baby Mieko. Based on baby Mieko, likely 1925.
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Grandfather Hisakichi at far right, taken at Mt. Rainier August 1919. Finding a similar location on Mt. Rainier was a long shot but I had hoped this location in 1919 would not be far from current road stops as they were traveling in a 1913 Chevrolet Classic Six (Note 1). The 2015 color shot was a few hundred yards from the Rainier Inn.
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Aunt Shiz dancing on left, looking east up King Street. The bottom of the Hotel Fujii signage is above the girls. My guess is circa 1923.
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Grandmother Kono holding baby Mieko. Uncle Suetaro is peeking over the chair looking at his sister. Dad is standing in the middle with Aunt Shiz to his right. The lady is unknown as is the child but we suspect it is Mrs. Fujii. King and Maynard, circa 1923.
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Dad and Uncle Suetaro in front of Grandfather’s barbershop. Circa 1922, King and Maynard.
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Although a poor recreation, Grandfather is standing at right with his hand on an unnamed male buddy. He is in other photos. Taken at the entrance to Grandfather’s barbershop (best guess as to location). Circa 1917.

This “then and now” project was only partially successful as I did not consider many things:

  1. Other very successful “then and now” recreations by professionals primarily had one thing in their backgrounds that I did not: a building.  I overlooked that fact.  The Fujii Hotel was torn down with only a park left in its place, e.g., there were no windows or doors to line up the old photos with.  For the most part, that made for difficulty in guessing/placing from where the photos from the mid-1910s to the 1920s were taken.
  2. I did not consider the fact that the buildings on this street 100 years ago were built on a hill, i.e., all were built upon a concrete base that was taller at the west end compared to the east end.
  3. Because of the number of cars parked curbside, I had to resort to wide angle shots.  By doing so, perspective in comparison to the original would not be correct.
  4. There were a few homeless at the park who clearly did not want their picture taken.  As my two kids were with me, that became a hurdle.
  5. I did not take into account the time of day (shade).
  6. I did not anticipate the construction nor the large trucks, garbage cans and trees blocking the view.
  7. I misjudged the position from where I took the photographs, affecting perspective and angle.  I should have been ten more yards east for a few of the images.  Too late now.

I also realized that there were no pictures of Uncle Yutaka nor Aunt Michie at the Hotel Fujii.  Uncle Yutaka had likely already been in Japan (1913) by the time these old family photos were taken.  Aunt Michie, of course, was the only sibling not born in Seattle but rather in Hiroshima.

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Uncle Yutaka and Aunt Michie, taken circa 1918 in Hiroshima.

A lot was learned.

I only wish I had gained the experience before undertaking this family project.  I do hope my cousins and children will still find these images interesting if not to merely appreciate our family photos from “100 years ago”.

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NOTES:

1.  Grandfather (back to camera in center) camping on Mt. Rainier and Mr. Fujii’s 1913 Chevrolet Six:

1913 Chevrolet Classic Six - Retouched

2. King and Maynard today:

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The current store “Gossip” behind my kids was a butcher shop in the 1910s/1920s per my father.

3. The northeast corner of King and Maynard, taken June 25, 2015.  The building still stands as it was 100 years ago.

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4. Hing Hay Park where Hotel Fujii once stood; taken from across the street.  My guess is the barbershop entrance was behind the green car.

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At the corner was a small grocery store. To its left was Hotel Fujii. Taken June 25, 2015.

Just Some Snapshots #14


My oldest daughter’s Corgi, “Yogi”.  He is sans one leg now but never stops loving you to death.  His favorite spot is still on your lap.

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Adorable Yogi

And some other snapshots:

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Textured Notocactus rutilans flower
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A textured bloom from a Crown of Thorns cactus
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Although he returned from WWII, we went to visit him during Memorial Day weekend.
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A Chamaelobivia (Rose quartz)
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A bloom of an Echeveria harmsii rendered into pastels.
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A simple Clematis
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A Chamaelobivia (Rose quartz) rendered into B&W
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Hummingbird sage (Salvia microphylla or “Hot Lips”). Hummingbirds love this flower and come frequently. A lovely scent proliferates when you break a stem.
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A Notocactus rutilans flower