Monday, August 13, 2012

My secret, in a nutshell

Ever since I posted new hummingbird photos last week, people have been asking for my secret. I wonder myself: after years of trying to take pictures of hummingbirds and occasionally getting an okay shot, how did I finally get some good ones?

I can tell you that no magic technique or crucial piece of equipment made the difference. Instead, these photos were a result of a convergence of a bundle of unrelated factors, many of them outside my control.

Take the weather--please. While the drought hasn't been as severe here as elsewhere in the Midwest, we have seen a decline in many of the flowers hummingbirds generally visit, so they're relying more heavily on our feeders. And then it's the right time of year, when fledglings have left the nest and the hummingbird population is starting to fuel up for its fall migration.

Did I use a tripod and a remote trigger? No I did not: I sat on a garden bench about five feet from the feeder, leaning my arm against the back of the bench to hold the camera steady. I've spent enough time out there this summer that the hummingbirds have learned to ignore me, so all I had to do was sit still and wait.

What about lighting conditions? I went out in the middle of the afternoon, which is generally a horrible time for nature photography, but the cloud cover was thick and uniform, providing a soft, diffuse light with no shadows and no washing-out of colors.

I didn't want any distractions in the background, so I positioned the bench facing a green hillside. There are all kinds of trees and weeds and herbs growing over there, but the 70-300 zoom lens blurs everything into a mottled green that allows the birds' plumage to pop.

And then I just sat there an shot pictures--lots of 'em. The hummingbirds come and go so quickly that I couldn't do a lot of minute adjustments of exposure or focus, so I set my Nikon D60 on the action-shot automatic setting and kept my focus on the edge of the birdfeeder and just shot whatever came close.

You haven't seen the shots I deleted: the green square from which a hummingbird has just decamped, the gray blur wobbling off the edge of the frame, the bird half-hidden behind the feeder. Here's one secret I'm happy to share: the "delete" button is the photographer's best friend. 

The rest of my secret is more complicated: drought, clouds, time of year, hummingbirds inured to human presence, bench placement, zoom lens, many snaps, much patience, delete delete delete. So easy a baby could do it. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You under-sell the skill.