Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hummers

There are two extreme birds for me; the eagles and the hummingbirds. The later are very nimble and probably the most colorful, smallest, fastest and more aerobatic of of the feathered world. These little jewels are a wonder of nature and most difficult to catch in flight. Although their main food is the nectar of flowers, I have seen some snapping small flying insects. What is the color of a hummer? It depends in what they are doing and how they are illuminated. When flying one can see the whole color gamut as light is reflected from the tiny feathers. While at rest, the colors are more constant but still very iridescent.

They come in different body sizes and their bills in an array of lengths and curvatures, depending in what flowers they visit. As always, the boys are more beautiful than the girls. Have you ever tried to photograph a hummer flying? Unless they are hovering over a flower or feeder, it is a rare accomplishment. Hummer photography has become a very specialized field requiring lots of lights (almost as setting a portrait studio) with background cloths and flowers attached to a stand to which honey of sweetened water are added. And to make sure that a hummer is digitized, arrays of infrared beams are installed to ascertain that the camera fires when the beams are broken. Some photographers go to the extreme of catching the small birds and putting them inside light boxes. Although magnificent images are obtained, they just don't look natural. I rather take their pictures with just a camera and one or two flashes set to high speed synchronization. Most of the time I just use one flash mounted in the camera shoe when there are no shades and the day is sunny. When in the shade, I set up the second flash as a slave to one side of the feeder about 3 feet off the ground.

There is no way to get photos of these birds unless they are habituated to come to feeders. These are most often maintained at the various eco-tourism centers. I go where the feeders are and set up the camera and flashes, get a seat and just wait. Hummers do not seem to mind people. They come in waves with periods of inactivity in between. These jewels are very noisy and fight with each other very aggressively, often crashing into each other in midair without major damage. It is frustrating at times when a hummer just perches in a branch one or two feet away and I can't photograph them since they are so close. I get better results with the camera drive mode set to continuous shooting and shoot as much as I can. I get more sharper photos with the camera set up to fixed distance and shoot as much as I can; auto focus is too slow for these feathered helicopters. These birds are so fast that less than 5% of the images obtained are keepers. I hand hold the camera/lens and follow the action shooting at apertures between 4 and 8 at ISO 400. Still photos are a steal as the one here.

Where to go to get these flying jewels in the States? The East Coast in not the place since the Ruby-throated hummer is the only one in this area. The SW of the United States is probably the best location to photograph them. But Latin and South America will reward you with a large number of species all year round. Give them a try!

13 comments:

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

Well for humming birds being so hard to capture in photographs, you are not doing too badly here Jose. :) Those are fantastic pics and I congratulate you in obtaining the almost impossible. Yet at the same time I have to agree with you, in nature, if you just have the patience and time, most things will come to you.

They are indeed one of the most beautiful species around. Those colors are magnificent.

Another fantaastic posting Jose and well worth waiting for again. Thanks for sharing.

Juan C. Aguero said...

Tremendas Jose !!, buen trabajo e informacion,
Congratulations.

Salty said...

I agree with your observation that these little critters are hard to photograph without feeders and even with feeders they move so quickly that they are still a challenge. Your shots are excellent!

Atanasio Fernández García said...

Hola José, tus imágenes de estas bellas son excelentes. Me encanta la primera, con las dos aves en vuelo y una de ellas mostrando las plumas azules de sus mejillas. Hice algún intento de fotografiarlos en Bolivia y Colombia, pero no tenía el equipo fotográfico de ahora....entonces era estudiante! Pero me impresionó verlos y oírlos en vuelo, una experiencia que siempre recordaré! Un saludo!

gidje said...

I especially like the 3rd shot down in the series. What a great picture. I like everything about it. I quess I didn't realize the complexity behind getting humming bird shots. I suppose it makes sense...they zip in, and zip out.

Ken Conger Photography said...

Wow, great series and exceptional text Don Jose. I really like the guy in the rain. Blue Skies.

John Long said...

just passing through visiting photo blogs thought I would say hello. That last humming bird picture is fantastic, and I love the frog pictures.

Mary said...

These hummingbird shots are fantastic! Such beautiful colors. The first one is great!

Lots for sale in Costa Rica said...

All that birds are so beautiful, thanks for the photos and for the information.

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