I woke up at 3:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep so I did what I always do when I wake up in the middle of the night. I groped around for my iPad, found an instructional photography video on Kelbytraining.com, and I watched it. I was glad to find that Moose Peterson has a new wildlife video. Since I’ll be joining Moose at the Grand Canyon in late February at a photography workshop, I thought I’d see what he had to say about wildlife photography, although our main focus in February will be landscapes. I was happy to see that his two cameras of choice are the Nikon D4 and the Nikon D800. I don’t have a D4 but I certainly plan to pick his brain about the D800.
Moose’s approach is to practice, practice, practice right in your own backyard so when the opportunity to photograph wildlife in the actual wild does occur, you’ll be more or less prepared. This makes perfect sense, although I don’t have nearly the variety of wildlife Moose, who lives on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada range in a forest, has. He does live in a neighborhood, though, just one that is much more rural than mine. As I watched the video, the occasional car drove by on the street behind and he had to make compositional and exposure adjustments to avoid photographing his neighbor’s deck. It’s nice to know these kinds of things happen to the pros, too. He devoted several segments to bird photography, including hummingbird photography. Since I do have lots of birds that visit my yard, including hummingbirds, and birds are my favorite photography subjects, I paid lots of attention. I learned some valuable tips about it and discovered that Moose makes the occasional “improvement” on the wildlife scene in his backyard. As he pointed out, Alvin, the resident rufous hummingbird cooperated for the Kelby training video crew and arrived on time; in fact, Alvin appeared to be in almost every shot because many of the shots were near the hummingbird feeders. One of the suggestions that Moose has is to modify a natural perch and affix it near the feeder, in the hopes of drawing the hummer to perch there and watch over his territory. This gives the photographer the opportunity to photograph the bird in a more wild setting than at the feeders. Of course Alvin came immediately to the bare twig attached to a light stand and posed as if on cue. Moose also suggested setting up on a tripod using a remote shutter release and with the camera focused on the modified perch waiting for the moment when the hummer arrives.
I found a twig, the kind the hummer always sets on while he guards his feeder. I modified it by breaking, not cutting the extraneous twigs off (afterall, it has to look natural), leaving the prime part of the twig exposed. I attached it with zip ties to the shepherd’s hook above where the feeder hangs hoping that my resident hummer might be like Alvin and come right over.
I set up the tripod and moved a potted rose tree which was right where I needed my tripod to be. I had to use manual focus in order to focus on the specific spot I thought the hummer might land on. I tried both aperture priority (that’s what Moose uses) and shutter priority in case I had an opportunity to shoot the hummer in the air. I closed the eyepiece shutter opening to prevent extraneous light from entering. Then I got out my remote trigger which wouldn’t work no matter how many ways I tried; I didn’t think the batteries were dead because the light was on. After 30 minutes of fiddling, I read that weak batteries can prevent it from firing. New batteries were all it needed to work. Then, I experimented with whether my remote trigger would operate though windows (it apparently does not). Because the twig appeared a little dark, I used flash (my on camera flash, not my Speed Light but that might come out in the future) because Moose highly recommended it and suggested ways to make it seem as if the flash wasn’t used while still getting the desired lighting on the feathers. Hmm. There is obviously more preparation to this wildlife photography than just stumbling upon a wild creature.
With this scenario, one is committed to a specific shot. If the hummer were to arrive and land or hover around the feeder, I wouldn’t get the shot because the camera is focused on the twig attached above the feeder and not on the feeder. I heard the hummer out there all the while I was in the yard setting up. He never came to the feeder, though, either while I was outside or after I left the yard. Finally, when two hours had passed and I was still hearing the hummer but not seeing him, I decided to call it quits. I did take a few shots of the twig, though, and that’s what my photo is, along with one taken with my iPhone of the set up. I tried to channel my inner Moose but didn’t manage to do it. I got some nice bokeh, though.
The waiting game: