ImageSpotlight: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

You may recall that in 2014 I wrote a blog post about “Making Hummingbird Backgrounds.” I’d actually be surprised if you remember that but you can enter those terms in the search tab if you care to refresh your memory. Anyway, two years later and those backgrounds are still in use. For the past two weeks, I’ve had female and juvenile ruby-throated hummingbirds but today, the male showed up. While I like the females and juveniles, it is the male with its iridescent gorget that gets photographers excited. Those brilliant colors add a dash of pop to the images.

To capture this photo, I used a 5 flash setup. Each flash was set at 1/16 power and placed in various positions to light the bird. I had one dedicated flash aimed at the background and 4 at the hummingbird. My camera (Canon 7D MkII) was set to Manual mode, ISO 200, f18, 1/250. I used a 70-200/2.8 with 1.4x converter. Because hummingbirds drink, move back and hover, then drink again, I prefocused on a spot where I anticipated the birds would hover. Each time the birds hovered, I pressed the shutter button. I’m looking to improve this image by adding an additional flash and incorporating a flower if I can find a suitable one at a nursery since there are no natural blooms around my home.

Until then, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

Backyard Photo Safari

People are funny. I think most of us are guilty of living by the old adage of “the grass is always greener”. Fishermen are always thinking that the big fish is around the next creek; while hunters obviously seem to think the bucks are bigger on the neighboring ranch or they wouldn’t put their hunting blinds right on the fence line. And photographers…well, our next great image is just a photo safari away. Even if we are not booking flights to some remote destination, how many of us drive for hours to photograph a subject, completely overlooking the abundance of photographic gems to be had in our own backyard? Too often I’ve been guilty of this so I now make a conscious choice to regularly photograph at home. I’m not saying I never drive long distances anymore, or that I don’t go on photographic ventures in distant places. I do and hopefully will always be able to do so, but as I just stated there are many photographic opportunities to enjoy at home. Granted, my current backyard is a little under 2 acres, whereas my former backyard was a small suburban lot. Honestly, that really doesn’t matter. Once I made a deliberate effort, I was able to capture some great images at both homes. The thing I hope you take away from the photos I share in this post is this…great images can be captured anywhere. All you have to do is realize how green the grass is at your own home…so put away the computer, turn off the t.v., and go discover the wilderness on your backyard photo safari. You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

The images below are just a small sample from my current backyard. Click on the images for a better view.

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Downy Woodpecker. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO320

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Carolina Chickadee. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f5.6 | ISO640

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | ISO 200 | 70-200/2.8

Pine Warbler.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Pine Warbler. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

The images below are from my old suburban backyard in Texas, taken by myself or one of my children.

Black-crested Titmouse. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 5.6 | ISO 200

Black-crested Titmouse. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 5.6 | ISO 200

Yellow Sunflower: Flowering Plants Category.

Yellow Sunflower: Flowering Plants Category.

Canon 7D | 50/1.8 @ f18 | 30 sec exposure | ISO 200

Canon 7D | 50/1.8 @ f18 | 30 sec exposure | ISO 200

Butterfly. Canon 1DMkII | 135/2.0 + extension tube

Butterfly. Canon 1DMkII | 135/2.0 + extension tube

House Sparrow. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f5 | ISO 200

House Sparrow. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f5 | ISO 200

White-winged Dove. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 6.3 | ISO 200

White-winged Dove. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 6.3 | ISO 200

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Making Hummingbird Backgrounds

I was able to photograph hummingbirds in the weeks prior to their migration from the Southern USA to Central America. While many of the images of the birds themselves were sharp and poses were pleasing, the backgrounds I used in all but the last images were not complimentary. This serves as an excellent illustration of how important the background is to a great hummingbird photograph. Many photographers I know simply take an intentional blurred image of a natural background and then print that to a size of 18×24 or 20×30 and use that as a background. That’s an excellent idea. However, you will need your own large format printer as you will be hard pressed to find anyone that prints color images on matte paper. I have found only one such source, http://www.aspencreekphoto.com/products/prints, and they charge  $25 for a 20×30 print. For me, I’d pay that if I can’t find another way to get a great background for less cost. If you are asking, “why not print on lustre paper”? I’ll answer with one simple word….sheen. The flash hitting the background will cast a sheen that will ruin your images. It must be a non reflective background.

My first attempt at a cheaper background was to purchase some fabric from a local store. While these worked in terms of a non-reflective background, they looked fake, more like portrait studio backgrounds. Did I like the images? Sure, but I wanted a more natural looking background.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | ISO 400 | 70-200/2.8 @ 200mm | f14 | 1/160

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | ISO 400 | 70-200/2.8 @ 200mm | f14 | 1/160

 

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For my next attempt, I purchased a flat matte tan paper from Hobby Lobby and some flat mat dark green, light green, and red spray paint. The paper itself cost just under $3, while each can of paint was just under $5. I then proceeded to spray lightly across the paper until I had a pleasing blend of colors (dark green, light green, tan, and red). The result was one that I really liked as the background was soft and looked natural (see image below). While my total cost thus far was about $18, I had a lot of paint that I could reuse on other backgrounds so back to hobby lobby I went.

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At Hobby Lobby, I purchased a dark green, light gray, yellow, peach/orange flat matte papers from $.99 to $2.79 a piece. I already had the paint so I mixed and matched until I was pleased with the look. Why yellow and peach/orange? Well, you often see yellow,  orange, and red flowers in the landscape so I thought I’d use that and let it filter through the paint. Below are images of each background I painted. All in all, less than $3 per backdrop and I have plenty to choose from next time my small feathered friends come buzzing.

While my hummingbirds are gone now, I setup and photographed as if they were here so I could assess how each background looked. I think my yellow images need some additional refinement (more green) but the others are looking good. When the spring migration comes around next year, I’ll be ready.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

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Light gray prior to any spray paint.

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Light gray after spray paint.

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Peach/Orange prior to any spray paint.

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Peach/Orange after spray paint. Maybe needs a little more green?

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ImageSpotlight: Hummingbirds

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 @ 200mm | ISO 100 | f10 | 1/200

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 @ 200mm | ISO 320 | f13 | 1/80

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 @ 200mm | ISO 320 | f13 |1/80

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 @ 200mm | ISO 320 | f13 |1/80

I finally got some hummingbirds attracted to my feeder about a week ago. I let them get used to it and me hanging around and today I had plans on photographing them. With heavy rains, it looked like it was going to be a college football day instead. In spite of my alma mater’s televised game, when the rains stopped, I had about 1 hour of time left so I rushed to get setup. The only background I had was a glossy image and I had the hardest time with the glare but I did manage these three photos. Tomorrow I will try again, but this time I will find a flat mat board and give it a go. The hummers have been active at the feeder but hopefully I get them interested in some flowers instead. For now, this is what I have to share.

I used three flash heads each at 1/32 power to get these images. On a future post, I will photograph the setup as well. Until then, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN