Sometimes, it’s just dumb luck, or is it?
One of the things that I’ve always wanted to capture was a reasonably good photo of a hummingbird in flight. While the photos that will follow shortly aren’t great, they are far better than any that I have shot up to this point. One thing that I should mention early on is that the caveat I have set for myself regarding the hummingbird photos is that they not be taken of a hummer at a feeder, but in their natural habitat. Of course, I could “cheat” as some photographers do and use an eye dropper to add a few drops of sugar-water to a flower, then wait for hummers to find it, but I won’t do that either.
So, you could say that these photos were just dumb luck, but there’s more to it than just luck, and how I got these is how I get many of the photos of rarer species of birds that I’m able to find and photograph.
To start with, the photos of the flying hummer were shot in the park that I walk every chance that I get, it used to be daily, but with my new job, I don’t make it out as often as I would like. The photos of the male perched on the dead snag came from along the trail to Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. The main thing though is that I’m very familiar with the park, and know that there is one small patch of wildflowers where I’m likely to find hummers. Usually, it’s one of them perched in the top of a short, dead tree, looking for insects to eat.
When most people think of hummingbirds, they think that the main food for them is the nectar from flowers, and that is the source of energy that fuels their extremely high metabolism, but they also consume great quantities of insects as a source of other nutrients that they need to survive. Just how high is a hummer’s metabolism? Their hearts beat at 1200 beats per minute, and they beat their wings over 50 times per second when they are hovering. If you’ve ever seen a hummer, you’d see that they are one of the quickest creatures in nature, which is what makes photographing them in the wild so difficult.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly straight and fast, but can stop instantly, hover, and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with exquisite control. Then, shoot off in search of their next meal so quickly that if you blink, they are gone.
Anyway, getting back to what I was writing about, I know from experience the areas where I’m most likely to see a hummer, not only around home, but in other locations as well. They are very territorial, both the males and the females, find one in an area once, and you’re likely to see them there often. That’s another reason that they like to perch up high in dead trees, to watch for other hummers intruding into their territory. Yet another reason is that they like to catch the early morning sunshine to help warm them up after cool nights.
So, the first item that helped me get the photos that I’m excited about is knowledge of both the bird, and the area that I was looking for the birds in. An ideal place to find hummers has flowers that provide the nectar that they need, with different flowers that provide the nectar over the course of the summer, with one or two places out in the open where they can perch to watch their territory and to look for insects to eat.
I make it a point to stop and spend a few minutes watching for the hummers whenever I’m near a place where I’ve seen them before. So, I suppose that you could add patience and persistence, as well as knowledge to the list of things that helped me get these photos.
I also pay attention to the slightest clues to help me find hummers, or any critter for that matter. Sometimes I hear either the hummers chirping before I see them, sometimes I hear their wings beating before I see them, most of the time it’s seeing a tiny grey blur shooting across a patch of wildflowers. That’s what led me to these images, catching a glimpse of something too large to be an insect zooming over the wildflowers. I focused on the area where I thought that the grey blur had gone, and spotted the hummer back behind a clump of cardinal flowers. I moved a few steps to my left to find the clearest shooting lane to the flowers, and the hummer behind them. Then, even though I didn’t have a clear view of the hummer, I took this shot to get the camera and lens focused at the correct distance ahead time so that if the hummer did come into view, I’d be ready.
Then, it was a matter of keeping the camera on the hummer, even when I couldn’t see it clearly, but as soon as it came out in the open, I pressed the shutter release, and let the Canon 7D do the rest.
Then, the hummer backed up, turned toward me…
…and I have one more blurry photo from that series as the hummer kicked it into overdrive and sped off, too quickly for the camera and lens to keep it in focus. But, since this is about good photos, no need for the blurry one to appear here.
Not only did I get better photos of the hummer in flight than I ever have before, I got an added bonus as well. In one of the photos, you can see how the cardinal flowers have evolved over time so that hummers pollinate them when the hummers sip the flower’s nectar. Here’s a close-up photo of a cardinal flower from my last post.
You can see that the flower’s reproductive parts are on the end of the long stalk towards the top of the flower, and here’s the hummer’s head contacting the flower’s reproductive parts as the hummer goes for the nectar.
That’s what has been driving me to improve my photography, being able to capture moments such as that which shows every one how nature works, much better than I could say it in words. You can see that over time, the cardinal flower has developed so that it is a perfect fit for the head of a hummingbird. The hummer gets much-needed flower nectar, and in return, the flowers get pollinated, a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship.
So, how can I match that? How about a good photo of a flying barn swallow’s butt?
Or, a not so good photo of another swallow in flight?
Maybe these will do, even though they are quite bad, they show that swallows turn their heads 180 degrees while in flight. I don’t now if they are looking for food, or on the lookout for predators from above, but since I captured it twice in a short time, it must be somethings swallows do very often.
I never knew that swallows did this before I saw those photos. They fly way too fast for me to see that with the naked eye, but I can see it clearly in the photos, another reason to continue to improve my skills, to catch the things in nature that we’re not able to see unaided.
Since I’m on swallows, I may as well include these two as well, since they are slightly better quality.
You may be able to see that the swallow has a small crane fly in its bill in the first photo, unfortunately, I missed the swallow’s swallow. 😉
It doesn’t have to be behavior or action that I want to capture, sometimes just catching the natural beauty of something is enough, as with this yellow-collared scape moth.
I’d like to be able to strike a better balance between portrait shots…
…and action photos.
What it all boils down to is that I want to be able to share all the things that I’m able to see, but many people don’t have the opportunity and that means that I can’t forget the flowers.
Or, the insects that the flowers attract.
I’d also like to branch out to shoot other genres of photos, and with that in mind, I attempted, and failed, to get photos of the Perseid Meteor shower. Since I work nights, and I get paid by the mile, and my return load is often late and I have to wait for it, I decided to stop on my way to the Detroit area and try for a couple of long exposure shots. My first attempt was ruined when another truck drove into the frame, parked for a few minutes, then went on its way.
I still kind of like that one because of the appearance of the trails left by the lights on the truck. Still, that wasn’t what I was after, so I tried another 15 minute shot.
No meteors, darn. I know what I did wrong though, I stopped the lens down and had the ISO set very low, so that I could keep the shutter open long enough to catch several of the meteors. I know that three of them crossed the frame while the shutter was open in the second image, but they didn’t leave a trace in the image because they are so short-lived. I should have set the aperture wide open, the ISO up a lot higher, and taken many shots with the shutter open for 30 seconds to a minute at a time, to catch the brief glow that the meteors create. So, it was a learning experience, and what I learned will help when I’m in a better location to shoot either star trails or a meteor shower. The parking lot of the weigh station just 20 miles from the outer suburbs of Detroit isn’t a good place for those types of photos, but it was the best that I could do without missing work.
Starting with this post, I was going to do a paragraph or two at the end explaining what camera, lens, and any other accessories that I used to get the images in this post and future ones, but I decided against it. Most of you don’t care, and I’m also beginning to experiment with combinations of gear that the manufacturers recommend not using together. So, I’d better keep the things to myself, although I have posted a link or two to videos that also suggest doing what the manufacturers (and others) say that you shouldn’t.
You may have noticed that I’m no longer separating my photos into posts from around home, and from the Muskegon area. I see no reason to continue that, as I’ve written as much as I can for the time being about the Muskegon area, but when I go somewhere that I usually don’t, or someplace new, like Loda Lake for example, then I will write those trips up as a separate post.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!