Friday, July 26, 2013

'It's Raining Stars' - Published today

It's Raining Stars
Science News - Great Photos - Sky Alerts Newsletter is published daily and is a great source to all kind of information about the sky, the stars, meteors, constellations and more, and I have learned a lot from reading it daily.

Today (July 26, 2013),, published one of my latest astro photography images as the Image of the Day 
The following description accompanied the image:
'Living in the San Francisco Bay Are with its light pollution, it is getting harder and harder to find ‘dark sky’ to capture the night sky and the Milky Way. Last Tuesday, I drove south and camped on one of the coastal mountain tops with view to the east for the Milky Way and the west towards the Pacific. Around midnight, I captured the western view with the ~70% moon illuminating the meadow and woodlands. Rotation around Polaris was an extra bonus.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 14-24mm lens, Monfrotto Tripod and Right Stuff Ball Head, Intervelometer.'
Thank you, Deborah Byrd and, for selecting my image for today's Image of the Day!

Til next time,

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hummingbird Photography-PhotoTips

Photographing Hummingbirds
plus Photo Tips for Fast Action Photography

A Day of Fun and Learning

-         Hummingbird Photography Workshops by Judy Bingman and Meggi Raeder

As the sun rose, it promised to be a clear and warm day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  As we were getting ready filling up all hummingbird feeders, the tiny birds were right there to get their breakfast.  It is so amazing how they buzz around the feeders, sharing each one with many other of their ‘relatives’.  Different from my garden in Palo Alto, where I often have one dominant male that might not want to share ‘his’ feeder with anyone else.

In Judy’s garden in the Santa Cruz Mountains, there are about 10+ feeders in various locations among the red hot pokers (also known as Torch Lily, Kniphofia/Red Hot Poker Lilies), lantana, and other flowering, nectar-carrying plants that all attract hummingbirds.

By 8am, our group of 6 photographers participating in the workshop arrived and set up their cameras and lenses to get ready for a day of fun and learning.   To get everyone started, we first discussed some of the behaviors of these tiny flying ‘machines’.   Weighing approximately 0.1 ounce and being the tiniest birds, they are strong and enduring during their migration from the northern areas to the southern hemisphere where they over-winter.  Amazingly, hummingbirds beat their wings at a rate of 40-80 per second and they can fly up to 30 miles per hour.  Some hummingbird species cross the Gulf of Mexico on their migration route to Florida without being able to land [in contrast to the shorebirds that can always rest on the water].  Their heart beat is very fast at 500-1200 beats per minute to create the energy – yet at night when they rest perched on trees or nests, it drops to ~50 beats to conserve energy.  Due to all of this energy consumption, they need to feed continuously on nectar or insects (protein source) that they catch in flight. 

The most striking features of hummingbirds are their iridescent plumage, particularly on the neck.  There are New World most of which are found in the tropics.  In all of North America, about 112 species have been observed, with 26 in Mexico, 17 in the USA and Canada.  In California, about 12 species have been reported and in the Bayarea the Anna and Allen Hummingbird are the most seen in our local backyards, with an occasional Rufus passing by.  In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the hummingbirds have been seen all winter if there is a food source.  With feeders provided, one might see the birds all year round.
about 340 species of hummingbirds in the

Observation, Practice and Patience

As in all wildlife photography, before setting up the equipment and starting photographing, it is very important to observe and learn the behavior and movement of the subjects to be able to anticipate what actions they will take.  For our hummingbirds, we studied their approach to the feeders to be able to capture them on and off the feeders.  By knowing that the birds will approach the feeder usually from 1 or 2 directions, and once landed often will go on and off the feeder several times, it is possible to capture their different body postures including the interesting tail flaring when they interact with other birds on or near the feeder.

A Day of Fun and Learning

After everyone was set up, quiet descended over the garden as we all were concentrating on the hummingbirds.  Participants migrated from one feeder to the next with different angles to the sun and backdrops to try different overall compositions.  In the afternoon heat, we all gathered on the shaded porch and photographed from there escaping the hot afternoon sun.
Without fail, during the day everyone captured the fascinating tiny hummingbirds and it is rewarding to see the outcome at the end of the workshop.  Here are some images from the workshops participants using varying tele lenses to capture these tiny birds: 

 Image by Susan

Image by Chris

Image by Jan - competition at the feeder

Image by Susan, titled: Hello there

 Image by Susan

Susan, who had attended a previous hummingbird workshop and who came back after renting a longer tele lens and equipment, was among the most dedicated and her perseverance sure paid off for her.  At home, Susan has a garden with native plants, and she photographs the birds and bees right from her desk where she writes poetry and novels for young reader.

She tells me:

“When I don't have a camera in my hand I am usually at the computer, working on poetry or my next novel for young people. And if I'm not there, I'm in my art studio working on my mixed-media pieces that usually combine my love of photography, dogs, and poetry. Nothing ever feels like work because I am always having so much fun. Breaks are strictly enforced by Zoey, my rescued white German Shepherd, with her frequent demands for walks, games of chase, and agility training.

You can find her work at these links:

Writing Website:
My Garden Blog:
Zoey's Dog Blog:

At the end of the day, we were all exhausted but happy.  It is impossible not to smile at these tiny birds, how they are strong, territorial, defending their food source and yet when there are many around, they do share.

Before closing, I would like to share some of the Photo Tips that I prepare for my workshops participants in a Quick Guide so they can take it home and refer to it next time out in the field.   These photo tips are broadly applicable to any fast action photography in nature or also in sports, dance and other settings that require quick and continuous shooting:

Photo Tips for Hummingbirds, birds and other wildlife
[Fast Action Photography]

During my photographic journey I have  photographed wildlife during the last 7 years  – from big game in Africa, polar bears in Canada, grizzlies and bald eagles in Alaska to the raptors, shorebirds and the tiniest of hummingbirds - there are certain settings on the camera that will serve as a starting point when capturing of wildlife.  Since the movement can never be anticipated for certain, it is important to set the camera to a fast shutter speed and shallow depth of field (large aperture).  But first, let’s look at the equipment.

Camera Equipment I use:
Nikon D7000 (Dx format) and D700 (Fx format)
Tele lenses:  Nikkor 70-200mm, Nikkor 70-300mm and Nikkor 200-400mm lens (my favorite)
1.4x Nikon Teleconverter
Wimberley tripod head
Monfrotto Tripod (sturdy!)
Nikon SB800 flash with Better Beamer Flash extension (for further reach)
Quantum External Battery (to accommodate continuous flashing during continuous shooting)
Nikon Cable Release

Camera Settings – as starting point:
Here are my starting settings that will be varied according to the light, the size and speed of the wildlife that I am photographing, and the environment:

Shutter speed:  1/1000 or faster
Aperture:  f/6.3 or 7.1 [shallow depth of field to blur the background.  Note: with larger animals, an increase in depth of field might be required, e.g. f/8 or 10]
ISO dialed up to achieve these settings:  typically between 640 and 1250
-- [note with the newer cameras, higher ISO settings are quit acceptable due to low noise]

Depending on the light situation, I will add an external flash with a Better Beamer [essentially a Fresnel lens to extend the reach of the flash light] to create some fill flash light specifically if the sunlight is harsh and if the sun illuminates the scene in such a way that the animals are shaded towards the camera. 

Important:  When using a flash, it is imperative to set the camera on manual exposure mode to achieve the above settings.  To achieve the right additional light from the flash, I use the flash exposure compensation to (mostly) soften the flash light ( “-“ exposure adjustment).

Practice and Patience

I have not always been a patient person, but wildlife photography has taught me that patience is a necessary ingredient when trying to capture subjects that cannot be directed to perform!  When out in the field, I always schedule extra time – sometimes several extra days – to increase the potential for good images.  Not only the animals might be shy and elusive, but the weather is an important factor. [We are fortunate in California of having very stable great weather during most of the year.  But this is not the case in other locations!]

As for practice, even after many years of focusing on wildlife, after a period of time, I notice that the hand-eye coordination can get ‘rusty’.  To practice at the beginning of the season, I have my tripod and camera/lens at my back door and enjoy the hummingbirds and finches/titmouse/chickadee and other small birds and squirrels that come to my feeders in my garden.  Since the angle of view is very narrow when using a long tele lens (400mm and longer), coming prepared with a good sense of where your lens is pointing to capture a flying birds increases the success rate of getting good images.

Til next time,

Go Out and Keep Shooting!       

 All images: Copyright M. Raeder-Photography unless otherwise specified.