Monthly Archives: May 2008

lighting hummingbirds

When capturing hummingbird images, my habit has been to work morning or evenings on bright sunny days to get enough sunlight on the birds for the shutter speeds I wanted. For a large part of the day, the sun was too high to light the undersides and the wings and beak cast even deeper shadows on their bodies. The best time for me to work on hummingbird images in natural light was between 8 and 9 a.m. on a cloudless day.

The birds didn’t always cooperate much during my prime time, but I was able to get some nice images and I was happy. The bright feathers on the neck or gorget of the males would reflect the brilliant color in my image if the bird was at the right angle. With my back to the sun I hoped the bird would be turned just enough toward the sun to get the reflection of bright color coming my way.

I’d read about others who photograph hummingbirds using one or more flashes to light the shadows and ensure the reflection from the neck or gorget feathers on the colorful males and I had all sorts of excuses for not trying it myself. I thought that lighting up the birds might scare them or annoy the birds. I didn’t want the images to look unnatural. I didn’t want to be tied down with a lot of heavy lighting equipment since I like to move frequently from one location to another. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on flash equipment. Yet, I kept reading about how much lighting the birds could improve my images.

I continued reading and making excuses for my lack of lighting until I visited with photographer George Lepp at a hummingbird festival recently. Mr. Lepp’s set up was simpler than I thought it would be and though he did have a second slave flash set up, he told me I could really improve my hummingbird photography with just one flash unit on the camera.

I got the Canon 580EX II. It arrived a few days ago along with a flash extender also recommended by Mr. Lepp. When the flash arrived I did some indoor practice with camera and flash settings. (Why does new equipment arrive on very windy and rainy days?) Today I was ready to go out and light some little birds. The broadtail below is my first (and only) flash hummingbird. You may click on an image to see it larger.

The flash only fired every third capture in the high speed shooting mode. I’m recharging the batteries to see if I can improve that. If it doesn’t improve with fresh batteries, I may check into an additional battery pack, like the ones Mr. Lepp had connected to his flash units.

I don’t usually photograph at this particular feeder location because the background isn’t very pretty, but that’s where the bird went and I followed. I also don’t usually photograph them on the feeders, so next I shall try flashing the hummingbirds as they hover around the wild current flowers.

After reading Mr. Lepp’s column in Outdoor Photographer for a few years, it was interesting to meet him and his wife, Kathryn. Now, thanks to the Lepps sharing photography tips with people at the hummingbird festival, I’m hoping to improve my hummingbird photography.

Abert Squirrel

This abert squirrel seems surprised to see me with the camera. Usually they run at the first sight of me, but this one took a few seconds to decide the level of threat. I didn’t move and the squirrel rewarded me with this pose.

Wild Things: elk, heron, sparrow, red wing, and buttercup

Elk in the early morning yesterday after a night of rain showers in a Staunton Park prescribed burn area. The burned area is turning green with new growth, but the tall grass in the unburned area is still brown. 


Some minutes later at upper lake, a heron, startled when I opened the ranch gate, flew across and stood on the other side.

Captured with 100-400 mm zoom at 400, handheld at the gate, the photo above is a crop of the original. I chose an ISO of 1000 for the weak early light.

The bird didn’t allow me too close. It did stay while I drove in, closed the gate, and parked.  The image above was taken across the small lake, also at 400mm and cropped to perhaps 1/2 of the original image.

My regret is that I didn’t change batteries after capturing the elk images earlier. I suppose, at 36 degrees F, it was cold enough to weaken the battery. I’d forgotten about the cold’s effect on battery life because these spring days seem warm to me. An early morning above freezing is a wonderful thing this time of year.

As I changed battery, the heron stretched its neck, then its wings, walked a few steps and took off. I got the battery in and was able to capture a few images as it flew over middle lake toward lower lake where it stayed until I left the area.


I’ll go back in a day or two and try again. After the heron left, I walked around upper and middle lakes and was able to capture images of a sparrow and a red wing blackbird. 


I was surprised to see how far the sparrow could turn its head. I wish I could do that.

The redwing called again and again while I photographed.


When I got home, wild buttercups (aka pasque flowers) with raindrops were waiting for the camera.

It was a good day for photography.


I and the Bird #74

I and the Bird

Like most bird lovers, I love to listen to wild birds sing and call to each other. When not outdoors listening to the birds, many of us sing and call out to other bird lovers on our blogs. Our songs are about sighting and identifying, feeding and protecting, counts and migrations, courting and reproducing, survival and death. 

As host of Edition #74 of IATB, I’d like to have a songfest for bird-loving bloggers. 
Let the singing begin!    (edited to include one more! scroll to the end of the post to read additional)

Birding Down the River is sure to be a pop hit for this carnival with N8 at The Drinking Bird singing a song of Carolina, listening to the birds sing, and cliff swallows nesting. N8 warbles in harmony with Mike of 10,000 birds as they count warblers in their respective locations.

And Mike’s charming warble, Prothonotary Warbler in Central Park, at 10,000 Birds is beautifully done with some Screeches at the end.

In St. Louis was Cold, Jeff at Boreal Bird Blog sings a song of birding in the St. Louis area and a song of appreciation for Audubon Conservation efforts in St. Louis.  If you haven’t already, be sure to follow the link in Jeff’s post to sign the petition and learn how you can help the wild birds that depend on the Boreal Forest.

In Tucson, Arizona, Pam sings a mourning song, A Bitter-Sweet Tale of an Owl Family, on her blog, Tortoise Trail.

Moe sings about the American Goldfinch on his blog and even allows the bird a chance to sing there, too.  See the photos, watch the videos, and learn about the American Goldfinch at Iowa Voice.

A song of Serendipity is sung by fine art photographer Howard Grill on his blog, Motivation. Howard’s lovely photo shows us the heron and sunrise which inspired his song.

Fox Sparrows Migrating Through is a happy song by The Zen Birdfeeder about the fox sparrow’s color and feeding habits with photos to help us ID the species.

Some Lifers are Easier than Others is birding photographer Bill Schmoker’s song at BrdPics. Every picture tells a story in this ballad of a birding trip and in the end we find ourselves wishing Bill many more “Easy Lifers” so we can see even more of his BrdPics.

Seabrooke sings of a close encounter with a hawk in Red Tail Fly By. With wonderful photos throughout, Seabrooke’s song lives up to her blog’s title, the Marvelous in Nature.

In Australia, Golden Whistlers in the Garden have Trevor singing a song of delight at Trevor’s Birding where he shows us photos of both male and female Golden Whistlers singing in his garden.

Killdeer to Photographer: Eat Me! Not them! is a song of parental desperation by The Ridger at The Greenbelt with great photos providing back-up to the lyrics.

A song of nesting ritual, Great Blue Herons Building Nest, is sung by nature photographer Mark Graff at Notes from the Woods. You might expect this song to be serious Emo on a Magic Moment, but Mark manages to find a bit of humor in the ritual.

Baby Owls is a nursery song about the cute and the fuzzy, Great Horned Owl Nestlings, sung by SeEtta at SE Colorado Birding.

In Bartramia, we have a medley of species with special emphasis on the Upland Sandpipers sung by Nick Sly of Biological Ramblings after a fine day of spring birding.

At Gallicissa, Amila Salgado sings Fines at Sinharaja, his song of guiding a couple of English birders on a two day trip of twitching and photography in the rain forest of Sri Lanka.  

Humming in British Columbia, Susannah’s tune, Zip. Buzz. Hum., at Wanderin’ Weeta gives us a pair of rufous hummingbirds hovering ‘round a feeder and lots of information for rufous ID.

Hum along with Max to Ready, Set, Fledge! at The Apartment Biologist. His song is a hopeful one of survival for fledgling Annas hummingbirds.

An Earth Day and Anniversary Celebration marks a milestone. Ecobirder performs a medley of greatest hits from year one of blogging. Congrats on the anniversary to you, Ecobirder! What Superb Photography!

In Provence 2008: The Camargue I, Rick Wright sings the praises of the Camargue, a must-visit birding paradise in Provence, France.

Liza Lee Miller holds a sing-along with wild turkeys in Turkeys Prowling the Streets. See and hear the gobblers on her blog, It’s Just Me.

At The House and Other Arctic Musings, blogger Clare Kine is singing a song of spring in the High Arctic with Return of the Kiggavik on the return of the Gyrfalcons.

Egrets…we’ve had a few is the song at Snail’s Eye View. Don’t let the modest title of this one fool you! Snail’s song provides ID information and great photos of these beautiful birds.

At Steve Bodio’s Querencia, the song is from Cat Urbigkit of Wyoming and shows us an Eagle doing a little Spring Duck Hunting. 

The sweet song of thanks, Awww…, by Bennet at his blog, Pish, will make you smile.

Chas, at Southern Rockies Nature Blog, notes The Persistence of Pigeons with an interesting photograph.

And now, one final song:

Drew, at Nemesis Bird, sings of an Orchard Oriole and warblers, too. Oh, to photograph such a beauty among the flowers!

Big OOPS!! I missed a song somehow!
With all the singing going on, I failed to hear one song of birding at Bellbird Corner by Ben Cruachan. Now look here…. sang Ben and with a title like that you might wonder how Con missed it. I wonder, too. If anyone else has been left out, please re-send your submission as Ben so kindly did.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this edition of I and the Bird! IATB #75 will be published May 15th at Gallicissa.
Send your wild bird related posts to  gallicissa AT gmail DOT com