Tag 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 #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.

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

A Volcanic Week


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The Little Cake Boss doing her dance thing out in the middle of nowhere. Notice her iPhone? The Texting Princess was not too keen about having no signal.

It indeed turned out to be a volcanic week.  The end began the night before on Saturday at 10:30 pm when my son asked, “Papa, can we go to the Mojave Road tomorrow?”

Mojave Road??  In the morning??  Egads.

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The week was already in shambles… full of surprises.

My 13 year old son requested one of my apples pies so I baked one on Tuesday night…from scratch.  Crust included – never mind it looked like a clone of Shaq’s head. The pie turned out pretty darned good if you ask him.  Can you hear it sizzling as it came out of the oven?:

My 11 year old daughter has multiple dance classes every week night except Friday plus 2-1/2 hours on Saturday – right in the middle of the day.  On Thursdays, although she has a two hour window in between two classes, she chooses to stay to chat up a storm with her friends…except last week.  As I take her to her 4:30 pm class on the 4th (late again as she is never ready on time), she asks me to pick her up at 5:30 instead!  Plus, as she exits the car, she manipulatively says, “…and today’s National Cookie Day, Papa.  Can we bake some chocolate chip cookies later tonight?”  Geez.  Rushed across the street to Ralph’s to pick up more brown sugar and some walnuts then headed home…

As I was pre-mixing the dry ingredients for her cookies, Jack rushes into the kitchen at 5:15 pm all excited.  He said, “Papaaa…  I forgot to tell you but there’s an orientation night at the high school.”

“Oh…OK.  When?” I ask.

“Toooo-night…” in a shy voice…

Holy crap!!  I never got a notification of the orientation but it turns out he had taken something home to his mama; of course, she didn’t bother sharing that with me!  Then double crap!  (There’s a triple crap coming.)  I had to pick up my daughter in 15 minutes but the orientation started at 6:00!  Arrgghh!

Throw some snacks into a bag, load my son hurriedly into the car, then zip off to her dance studio.  I was a few minutes late and she was waiting outside.  I am NEVER late when it comes to the kids and especially with my little girl.  As I hand her the snacks, I tell her she has to stay because…..  😦  Boy, did she get upset at my son…from a distance!

We get to the auditorium in the nick of time.

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We transitioned to a classroom later listening to the IT department head give his presentation when… the triple darn hits.  My phone starts vibrating…  It’s 6:45 pm…  It’s my little girl calling from the dance studio.  She forgot a piece of her dance clothes for her 7:30 class.  Geez.

I couldn’t leave Jack alone so I had to pull him out of the orientation and rush back to the dance school.  I picked her up to take her home as I have NO idea what “thing” she needs.  I take her back by 7:20 only to have to pick her up at 8:30.

With all the excitement, I had forgotten how many 1/4 cups of brown sugar I had put into the cookie mix.  Criminy.  Anyways, four batches of toll house cookies emerged… And the Little Cake Boss – she’s the one who wanted to bake the cookies for National Cookie Day – didn’t help…  She said she was too tired…  Arrgghh.

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Yielded about 40 cookies.

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Ah, the volcanoes…

I had been asking Jack where he would like to go on a Sunday especially since the last two months have been Brooke’s dance, dance, dance for competitions and dance “conventions” every weekend.  Saturdays and Sundays. Get up by 5:30 am.  Criminy.  I felt bad leaving him home but I had no other choice.

So at 10:30 pm on Saturday, he brings up the Mojave Road.  He would like to go there.  I looked it up.  It was a dirt road that makes the Baja 500 look like skateboarding on a sidewalk.  Sadly, I said we couldn’t go because it’s 4 x 4 terrain; plus, the rainstorms had made some sections really rough going.

Then he says, “Papa, isn’t the Subaru 4WD?”  Gadzooks.  I had to show him photos of the road damaged by flooding and how raised monster off-road vehicles even get stuck.  Besides, the car only has cheap two-ply street tires.  He was disappointed.  I asked him to pick somewhere else…after I had said to pick a place.  He decided on “Hole-in-the-Wall” in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve.  It’s roughly 240 miles from home… One way.  Man, you should have heard my daughter moan and groan while chomping on the toll house cookies her PAPA baked for HER.  She did NOT want to go!

“Jack!!  What are you going to do when we get there! Duh!” she asked, then stormed to her room.  Oh, man.  I feel sorry for her future boy friend.  Did I write that?  Where’s the backspace…

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Believe me, I’d rather fight Godzilla rather than getting the Little Cake Boss out of bed early on a Sunday.  Braving an apocalypse, I cracked open her door at 7:30 am; I escaped with just one black eye and a broken arm.  But we all managed to get into the car by 8 am.  Drove like crazy as it gets awfully cold and DARK real quick out in the desert.  We got there a little after noon.

Hole-in-the-Wall is an area where volcanoes spewed lava over millions of years.  Geologists theorize that uneven cooling of the layers of lava aided in creating pockets of trapped gasses within.  Through the eons, time had eroded away the lava layers, exposing these “holes”.  The plateaus surrounding the area were what remains of the tops of the original lava flows millions of years ago. It has also been rumored to have been a hideout for outlaws in the days of the Wild West.  Their saddles must have had built-in GPS to have been able to come back to this forsaken place.  If it weren’t for Sparklett’s making door-to-door deliveries, they wouldn’t have had water, either.

As this story is getting too long, some snaps by my son and I from Hole-in-the-Wall:

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Avoiding cacti and other thorny stuff… as well as tarantulas that wouldn’t fit in a dog cage.
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Some petroglyphs.

I encouraged Jack to take photos as there is an art show at his school early next year:

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Me bending down is out of the question so I encouraged Jack to take a photo of this dead plant.

This is his result:

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Jack’s photograph. Pretty darn cool!

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A billion cacti meant a gadzillion thorns.
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On the three mile desert hike that nearly killed me.
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Canon, baby.
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Another one of my son’s photos.
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There must be a zillion people smarter than me as we didn’t see a single car for over 20 minutes… but then we were trying avoid potholes the size of the Meteor Crater. Taken by Jack.
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Natural cotton gin.

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A last one from my son.

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