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.)

The Three Second Rule, Food and Cigars


I firmly do NOT believe in the three second rule… especially when it comes to the kids.

In fact, it’s more like the micro-sub-second rule.

I don’t care if it’s one of my homemade chocolate truffles or a hard candy.

You see, once the food hits the kitchen floor, it legally belongs to the dog. It’s a transfer of ownership. It does not belong to my kids anymore nor especially my granddaughter if she comes.

If the dog is not present, the food gets wasted. It goes into the trash can. Tough luck, dog.

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You see, I think the floor is smothered with yukkies – like dust, microbes, viruses, insect do-do and of course, dog saliva from previous ownership transfers. I can’t imagine allowing those yukkies getting into young mouths. I, too, don’t eat things that fall on the kitchen floor for exactly the same reasons.

Disgusting.

However, an entirely different rule applies to me when I’m outside.

If I drop my cigar – onto the sidewalk where crows do their dastardly deeds or onto a parking lot spotted in days-old engine oil or on the grass where dogs freely mark their territory – the three second rule DOES apply.

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I dropped my cigar. It does not belong to the dog.

In fact, it might as well be a three MINUTE rule.  The cigar can rest on the dirt for a few minutes, even like when I’m doing macro photography.

But…unlike the mundane food, the cigar will not get thrown away. I will not waste it. The dog will definitely not get it.

It will go back into my mouth. I will not give the bacteria from the crow do-do or the grit from used engine oil or fermented dog pee on the lawn a second thought.

You see, it isn’t food. That’s why I can pick up the cigar and put it back in my mouth.

Do you see the logic?

Florentine Bars from Scratch


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My bud, Chef Cathy Thomas of Orange County, CA (link here), had posted on her website a marvelous, yummy looking dessert called “Florentine Bars”.  They are a creation of one of her culinary associates, Chef Wonyee Tom, who serves them up by the dozens at her establishment in Huntington Beach, CA called “Tomgirl Baking Co.”

The topping of dried cranberries and apricots plus sliced almonds in a cream and honey based homemade caramel mixture rests upon a wonderful buttery crust… and like all of Chef Cathy’s recipes, the recipe was detailed and easy to follow.

Even I could follow them!

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To make these, the ingredients are listed below but if you home chefs want to throw together this easy recipe, I’d encourage you to visit her webpage; there’s even a video!  (You know how men are visually minded.)

Video link: http://cathythomascooks.com/2016/02/01/tomgirl-baking-companys-florentine-bar-cookies-are-unsurpassed/

The ingredients are:

Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1-1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper

Topping:
1-1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3-1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
Nonstick spray

Here are some steps I managed to take cellphone pics of:

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Dried cranberries and apricots with sliced almonds.

 

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Softened unsalted butter and sugar ready for the mixer and before egg and flour.  When I add the flour, I set the mixer on the lowest speed briefly until most of the flour is under control.  Otherwise, you will have a plume of flour dust.

 

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Dough in general shape of pan and before rolling out. I crease my parchment paper to mark the pan dimensions; it helps me roll it out.

 

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Ready for the 350F oven.

 

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Making the caramel mixture. You should smell the aroma!  By the way, Chef Tom recommends using a stainless steel utensil to stir but I don’t have one that’ll work.  I’m assuming the wooden spoon may give off infused flavors from dishes past?

 

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Mix in the dried fruits and nuts off heat. It does set up very quickly so move fast!

 

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I slice mine up into triangles when there’s still a smidge of warmth left. (ps I also cut off maybe 1/4″ off the sides for presentation… It may be the best part!)

 

Voila!  Great with coffee…or anytime!

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And as testament to the deliciousness, I had made it for the teachers and staff appreciation luncheon last Friday – and they asked my daughter for the recipe!

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Of course, I texted her the proper link to Cathy Thomas’ website.  You should check it out, too, and get on her email distribution!

http://cathythomascooks.com/

Happy baking!

Short Stories about World War II. One war. Two Countries. One Family