"Hi, Everybody! (The Waving Hummingbird)"
A Day With a Hummingbird Photographer
Make sugar water solution (4 parts boiled water and 1 part sugar). No red food coloring. Wait for sugar water to cool down. Fill up a hummingbird feeder and put it outside the RV. Only see an occasional hummingbird for more than one week. One morning, wake up and see black-chinned and magnificent hummingbirds coming in to the hummingbird feeder. Decide that this is the day to set up to photograph them. Eat a quick breakfast and start to gather together all the equipment needed. Deploy the awning on the RV, so that there is shade on the setup. This is because direct sunlight is a Very Bad Thing, in that it would result in too much ambient light and causes ghosting of the wings. Notice that the wind is picking up and hope that it will die down. Set up the background (white foamcore, 20” x 30”) on a camp chair. (I want a pure white background for this series.) Secure it with clamps, some of which have gone missing. Make do with two clamps rather than four. Root through RV compartments, removing a bunch of stuff to find the REI roll-up camp table. Assemble table, trying to remember how to do so. After several false starts, get table all set up. Secure the flashes to the table (five flashes, 1 of which will light up the background and four aimed at various angles to light up the spot where a potential hummingbird would be). Each flash sits atop a Jianisi PT-04TM wireless receiver, which is set off by a Jianisi transmitter on top of the camera, in the flash shoe. Each Sunpak 383 flash is set to 1/16th power. Move the big hummingbird feeder indoors and set out a smaller, hanging hummingbird feeder with only one “port” so that the hummingbirds will come only to that feeder and only to that one port. Aim the port slightly backwards toward the background. This is so the hummingbirds will back off from the feeder in such a way that they face the camera and their gorgets will be showing. Notice that the feeder wants to rotate around and not stay in the desired position. Try to find some chain bought for the purpose of twisting around itself to make hummingbird feeder stay in place. Can’t find it. Ask significant other if he has the chain. Wait while he roots around to try and find it and can’t. Go back outside and put gaffer tape on the string holding the hummingbird feeder, to keep it from twisting around. Significant other finds the chain and brings it outside. Remove gaffer tape and string. Install the chain and feeder still twists around. Use more gaffer tape to secure it. Test all the flashes and replace AA batteries (4 per flash) that aren’t working. Go inside RV and remove a bunch of stuff from cabinets and find batteries. Go back outside. Test wireless receivers; some aren’t working. Go inside to find AAA batteries (two per receiver). Go outside. Notice that the transmitter doesn’t set off the receivers. Go inside and root around in drawers to find the teeny, tiny screwdriver needed to open up the transmitter. Replace battery (very obscure battery model 23A needed, so root around in battery supply to find it; whew, it’s there!). Go outside. Notice that one receiver doesn’t work at all even with fresh batteries and put it aside, replacing it with one that does work. Set up the camera (Canon EOS 5D Mark III) on a tripod. The camera is set to full manual at 1/160th second, f/20, ISO 400 (this can vary depending on light levels and other factors). Futz around with extension tubes in various combinations. Move the camera, tripod and chair to various positions to get everything at the right distance to focus. End up deciding to use the two largest extension tubes (32mm and 20mm) in combination. Get startled as the wind gusts and completely blows over the other chair holding the background, and knocks it into the table, also knocking over the hummingbird feeder, which spews sugar water all over the table and background. Take the background inside the RV and wash it off and also wash off the table so that ants, other insects, and BEARS (yes, there are lots of them around here) don’t discover the sugar water. Go outside. Set the background back up on the chair, clamp it in place, and this time anchor the chair with big rocks. Replace the feeder. Sit back down and wait for the hummingbirds. Take a picture of a skittish hummingbird that wants to hide behind the feeder and takes off very quickly. That one is my nemesis. Wait for more hummingbirds to come in. Notice that the awning is flapping very loudly in the wind and slapping back down on its support, scaring away the hummingbirds. Get startled again when one of the awning supports gets uplifted by the wind and crashes to the ground. Rectify that and make sure the awning support is anchored better in its bracket. Sit down and wait for the hummingbirds to come in. Notice that the sun has now moved and that the setup will soon not be in shade. Very Bad Thing. Move the whole setup (background with its chair, table, camera, tripod, and my chair). Notice that the back of my neck is getting a lot of sun, so go inside to put on sunscreen. Go outside. Sit down again and wait for hummingbirds. Take a shot or two in between massive flaps of the awning. Get hungry and go inside to fix lunch. Go back out and sit and wait for hummingbirds. Get bored and put on earphones so I can listen to podcasts and music on my iPhone. Wait for hummingbirds. Get bored and go in and get Kindle so I can read a book while waiting. Look up from my reading to notice that a hummingbird is just LEAVING the feeder, the little sneak. Put down Kindle and pay more attention to feeder, just in case a hummingbird comes in. Wait some more. Notice that the sun is now shining right THROUGH the background and causing a stripe where the chair back holds it up. Go in and get another piece of foamcore to set behind the first piece and re-clamp everything. Notice that the sun is going to be hitting the feeder soon (remember, that is a Very Bad Thing), so move the whole setup the opposite direction. Notice that hummingbirds seem to be very confused and not understand where they are supposed to find the now-moved feeder. Wait for them to come back. Take a few pictures of hummingbirds that successfully come in to the feeder. Some have bad wing positions (covering up their eyes, for instance), or have a wing behind the feeder, or have their tail cut off because I’m not as fast as a hummingbird. Vow to get something good out of this day, so keep trying. Notice that the sun has dipped down far enough that my face is now getting too much exposure, so go inside to put on more sunscreen. Come back out and wait for hummingbirds. Take a few more photos of hummingbirds. One male black-chinned actually sticks around a while and makes several passes at the feeder, backing off at just the right distance each time. Good boy, good boy!!! (Hummingbirds tend to go in to feed, then back off from the feeder and hover for a while. Each bird seems to have a different set-back distance and position preference, and it’s often repeatable, which sure is nice when that happens.) Notice that a few magnificent hummingbirds are coming in but don’t stick around long enough for photos. Dang, sure would like to get some photos of that species today. Notice that two male black-chinned hummingbirds are trying to come in at the same time, which WOULD have made for nice photos except that instead they chase each other off any time one gets anywhere near the feeder. Little jerks, errr dears. Notice that the sun is going down behind the mountain. Time to break down the setup and put everything away. Put camera and tripod away, backgrounds back in the RV, etc. Cover flashes with plastic bags secured with rubber bands. Clean up mess inside from disassembling transmitters and battery fiasco. Cook dinner. Download a grand total of 21 hummingbird photos and sort through them. There are a few good ones! I am not making this up. Time to get some sleep so that the whole process can be repeated all over again tomorrow.
(This is a male black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri). Taken in the Coronado National Forest, Arizona, USA. Masking done in Photoshop to make the background a pure white.)