A Hummingbird Story…

It took about 2 hours to get this photo…

hummingbird

June 20, 8:14 PM

This is the story of how I tried to avoid getting photos of hummingbirds loosing their sh*t, and make them feel a bit more comfortable having their picture taken with a flash…

I have a hummingbird feeder and several pots of flowers specifically planted to attract hummingbirds.  Every year I get a few hummingbirds who visit my little balcony.  I usually get one hummingbird, typically a male, who tries to own the balcony… or as we like to say, that big red flower (the hummingbird feeder) and everything around it.

This year there is a different group of hummingbirds coming to my feeder.  This group is a bit more flighty (pun intended) than the last group.  So I have tried to let the birds feel safe before I start taking photos of them.  Usually I hide just inside my sliding glass door (door open, screen open, blinds drawn) and take a few photos.   For this particular photo shoot, my first few photos looked something like this…

hummingbird - hitchcock

June 20, 6:35 PM

While a few photos of hummingbirds channeling Hitchcock is cool, I wanted photos that showed the beautiful coloring of the birds.

Setup

setup

Set up – flash and foam-core board

First I set up a white foam-core board as a bounce/fill light… I set it near the feeder as shown in the above photo.  I let the birds get used to it while I thought about the best way to light the scene.

Next I got out my flash and flash stand… unfortunately, my stand put my flash right on top of the bird feeder (due to the tripod legs and small space on my balcony).  I knew that the birds would not like having the flash so close and had to come up with a different solution.  My husband suggested my monopod… brilliant idea!  So I attached my flash to my monopod, leaned it against the wall near the feeder and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t get knocked over.  I added a Rogue diffusion panel to my flash which turns it into a softbox.  Then I waited for the hummingbirds to feel brave enough to return to the balcony.

setup

Set up – my view… hiding behind the blinds

setup

Set up – my view from the other door… and a hummingbird (in flight)

setup

Set up – my view from the other door… and a hummingbird (landed)

I soon realized that, although I prefer to handhold my camera so that I can get the bird in focus wherever they may land, the birds were still a bit freaked out by all the new additions to the balcony.  I decided to put my camera on a tripod and attached a wire remote so that all the equipment they saw did not move.  I crouched down below the camera and held the remote and waited for the hummingbirds to come within focal range.  I would let the birds have some nectar and only take photos with the flash a few times… if I continuously flashed and scared the birds, they might not return.

Loosing their sh*t

I did not want my balcony to become known in the hummingbird world as the Balcony of Horrors.  I do have a few photos of the hummingbirds loosing their sh*t, but tried very hard to make the experience as painless as possible.  My reference to ‘loosing their sh*t’ comes from a Wired article I read awhile back… someone had a camera set up in a haunted house… when the guests arrived at a particularly scary part of the haunted house, there was a picture taken of them scared out of their minds.

While these photos are funny for willing humans, I was trying to avoid scaring the hummingbirds with the flash.

Photo Shoot Day 1

He’s a bit scared and darted away just after…

hummingbird

June 20, 7:41 PM

As you can see without the flash, I’m just not getting the detail I want…

hummingbird - no flash

June 20, 7:48 PM

hummingbird

June 20, 7:48 PM

Although the coloring is beautiful on this one, the bird is clearly scared… birds get skinny when startled… but he didn’t fly away…

hummingbird - skinny

June 20, 8:06 PM

A few seconds later, hopefully realizing that the flash isn’t going to hurt him… (*I try to keep the power on the flash as low as I can to avoid blinding the birds)…

hummingbird

June 20, 8:06 PM

One of the drawbacks to using a tripod and a remote… the bird is just out of focal range…  or if you’d like… he’s sticking his tongue out at me and moved out of focus on purpose. 🙂

hummingbird - tongue

June 20, 8:12 PM

Nice… he is less skinny and starting to feel more comfortable…

hummingbird

June 20, 8:14 PM

As you can see the sun went down and the lighting had to come solely from the flash, which unfortunately made the flash more scary.  It was around 8:15 and the birds called it a night.

I brought in all my equipment and let the birds drink in peace all the next day.  Like I said, it is not my intention to scare the birds, I am hoping to get them a little more used to me and my equipment while they enjoy the rewards of my feeder.

Photo Shoot Day 2

I waited a few days between photo shoots so that the hummingbirds could recover.  I thought that if I could introduce the birds to the flash during the day they would be ok with it.  It didn’t work out too well, though, I think I chose the time of day when the hummingbirds are vying for rule over the feeder and the flash was just one more thing to upset them.  Instead I took photos of the setup you saw above.  I did get this photo though…

hummingbird

June 23, 3:00 PM

One of the neat things about using a flash is that you can get something like this photo… the ghosting of the wings is because the shutter speed is slower than the flash speed.

hummingbird - wings

June 23, 8:10 PM

The hummingbird is still startled by the flash, but is flying away less often…

hummingbird

June 23, 8:10 PM

I made sure to let him drink, and only took the photo when he looked up.  I think it really helped him feel a bit better about the flash.

hummingbird

June 23, 8:11 PM

I’m looking into getting a continuous light.  I’m thinking about an LED panel.  That way the lights aren’t as hot and the light doesn’t flash and scare the birds.

Until next time…
~nic

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