2018—Only as Big as Your Thumb

I have been busy printing photographs to go on display along with those of other members of my camera club at a local hospital.  We’re hanging photographs under the Art Can Heal program so the prints have to have subject matter that is not disturbing.  I will be hanging 13 prints, mostly birds and a few landscapes.  While considering what I might print, I revisited my files from my last year’s trip to Costa Rica.   At first, I thought I’d print this adorable, no bigger than your thumb, Spurrell’s Leaf Frog  (also known as Spurrell’s Flying Tree Frog).  He is irresistibly cute to some, but I have a good friend who is terrified of frogs so he fell off the list just in case someone else is as afraid of frogs as she is.  Then, another friend wondered if I was going to make a blog post today because it was noon and I hadn’t posted one yet.  So, since the files were at hand, here he is, along with a shot of him to prove that he’s no bigger than a thumb.


Spurrell's Leaf Frog.jpg


Spurrell's Leaf Frog on thumb



2018—“Hey, Is That the Bird You’re After?”

Before I went to the gym on two mornings last week, my camera and I were at the city’s Mahany Nature Preserve, which is next to my gym. There are acres of dried grasses, a creek, a seasonal pond, a small grove of blue oak trees and some birds.  A Cooper’s Hawk watched from atop a stump.  Mourning Doves perched in the limbs of cottonwood tree.  Western Bluebirds flew in the distance.   A Western Kingbird observed from the top of a dead oak tree.  Scrub Jays scolded from the treetops.  Anna’s Hummingbirds buzzed by my head.   Lesser Goldfinches flitted around tall grasses near the creek.  A white-breasted Nuthatch scurried down a branch.  Acorn Woodpeckers announced their presence with rat-a-tats.  Aha!  That’s what I was there for.  And, when I espied a pair high in a dead tree, I left the trail and slowly approached the tree, keeping my eyes on the birds as I walked.  I hoped to get a better chance at a good shot if I got closer

“Hey! Is that the bird you’re after?” a harsh voice shouted at me.  The woodpeckers  flew off and I glared in the direction of the voice.  The voice was from a man I had encountered when I entered the preserve.  He had asked me lots of questions about my camera and what I was photographing in the preserve.  We kept pace for 50 yards or so and I tried to ignore him but admitted I was there to photograph birds.  I was relieved when a “Y” in the trail allowed me to go left  in the direction of the woodpeckers when he veered right.  But, a few minutes later, he found me again atop a grassy knoll,  as I looked up into the tree at the woodpeckers.

And, “no” this photograph is not a photograph of an Acorn Woodpecker which is the bird I was after.  This is a Black Phoebe that landed on a fallen limb behind the woodpecker’s tree, just as I turned away from the annoying man on the trail.  Serendipity.

Black Phoebe PS

2018—Panting at 107°

We’re in the middle of a summer heatwave with daytime temperatures ranging from 103° to 110° in the region.  At my house Wednesday evening, it was 107° when I went outside to revive the wilted plants on my patio.  I saw an Anna’s Hummingbird fly away from the fountain and watched him perch on a twig above the fountain.  He was panting, a behavior I’ve seen hummers do only a few times, always in the midst of intense heat.  I’m happy that my fountain is working and the cool water is there for the birds in my yard.

Anna's hummingbird panting-1.jpg

2018—On the Fence

This is a Western Fence Lizard…I think.  I’m not too up on my lizards but found this guy when he emerged to sunbathe yesterday morning in Mahany Park next to my gym in Roseville.  He’s sitting on a log not a fence and there was a small patch of sunlight on the side of the log that attracted him.  He tolerated the sounds of my shutter for a brief time, then he scurried away and I didn’t see him again.

Western Fence Lizard.jpg

2018—Shadow Self-portrait

Friday morning we were at Horseshoe Lake on Mammoth Mountain.  U.S.G.S scientists detected naturally occurring Carbon Dioxide (CO2) gas in the vicinity of Horeseshoe Lake and other areas on the Mountain in 1994.  Since then they have been monitoring the gas, measuring the concentration and rate of gas discharged from the ground.  The higher than normal concentrations of CO2 are responsible for killing approximately 120 acres of trees next to Horseshoe Lake and elsewhere on Mammoth Mountain.

I guess the high levels of CO2 coupled with the altitude (6,550′) caused me to take this photograph of some of the trees killed by carbon dioxide creating a shadow portrait with shadows of the trees and me in the middle.  I used my D850 and my 10.5mm fisheye DX lens to create this image.

Shadow self portrait.jpg

2018—Flight Posture

One of my goals in photographing hummingbirds is to capture different postures.  When the birds hover, they tend to keep the same straight pose as they face the feeder or flower they’re feeding on.  Because they’re hovering, they’re relatively still and only their wings move so it is possible to capture in focus photographs.  When they move up or down or change direction or fly to or from the feeder, their posture changes.  However, it is more difficult to capture that motion and get the bird’s eye in focus when they’re not hovering.  This is one of the rare “in flight,” as opposed to “hovering,” shots that I got in Madera Canyon.

Madera Canyon Day 4 00246-1.jpgMost of the hummers we saw and photographed in Madera Canyon were brightly colored males, especially the jewel-like Broad-billed Hummingbird.  There were, however, lots of females who tended to surround the feeders when the dominant males were gone temporarily.  This is a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, flying to the feeder.

2018—Change Is Good

Change is a good thing.  We made several positive changes to our flash setup and settings for photographing hummingbirds in Madera Canyon this year.  These changes helped me improve my hummingbird photography and I came home extremely satisfied with my performance this year; considerably better than I did last year.

Madera Canyon Day 2 Black chinned.jpg

This is a male Black-chinned Hummingbird.  We had very few of these birds compared to large numbers of the more aggressive Broad-billed Hummingbirds.  When the Black-chinned Hummers came to the feeders, they were harassed and chased away so I got only a couple of photographs of the Black-chinned.

The main change that allowed me to improve was the use of Manual Mode on the flashes instead of using TTL (Through The Lens) technology.  Although TTL makes automatic adjustments to flash output, TTL uses lots of battery power so the flash needs time to recover before firing again in order to put out the same amount of light.  If you depress the shutter release immediately after firing the flash set to TTL, the flash doesn’t have time to replenish and the next and subsequent shots are dim.  Using the manual setting in the flashes, we were able to adjust the power output of the flash based on our ISO, the higher the ISO, the lower the power output needed.  Recovery was quick and that allowed us to use Continuous High release mode on the camera so we could take multiple bursts without losing flash power.  It also helped that we used auxiliary battery packs for each flash as well.

Madera Canyon Day 2 female black chiin-1And, this is a female Black-chinned hummingbird.  I was able to get many more in-focus photographs using Continuous High release mode.

2018—Him and Her

Male hummingbirds are much more spectacularly feathered than female hummingbirds.  The majority of  hummers we saw this year in Madera Canyon were Broad-billed Hummingbirds but   Black-chinned, Anna’s, Allen’s, and Magnificent Hummingbirds were frequent but more elusive targets for us.

The male of all hummingbird species is much more colorful then the females who are usually drab.  The male Broad-billed looks like a tiny jewel of irridescent blues and greens.  Our camera setup with flashes and soft boxes designed to light up their colorful gorgets worked perfectly.   Here are two shots taken on our last full day in Madera Canyon, the first is the colorful male Broad-billed Hummingbird. He has a couple of new feathers emerging as white “pins” in his gorget.  The second, a drab  female, in an similar pose, is a female Broad-billed Hummingbird.

Madera Canyon Day 4 Male Board-billed Hummer

Madera Canyon Day 4 Female Broad-billed Hummer

2018—So Long, Madera Canyon

I’m home from Madera Canyon.  I am thrilled with my accomplishments there.  On the first day, I captured more photographs that met my expectations than I captured during the entire week last year. Madera Canyon is an incredible place.  I am starting to grasp the nuances of this challenge of photographing hummingbirds.  I haven’t come close to mastering it yet but I feel as if I now have a much  better understanding and can move forward and work  on fine-tuning my technique instead of continuing to make the same mistakes.

I took these photographs on Friday morning, our last day in the Canyon.  They are my best from the last morning but certainly not my best from the trip.  The last morning was  frustrating for me.  The birds were not coming to the feeders in the area outside of my cabin.  Time was so long between visit that I lost concentration and wasn’t always ready when they did come so I missed many shots.  Then, I struggled with exposure when the sun came out and specular highlights were so distracting in the background.  I moved my rig to avoid the specular highlights the background  and that helped but lighter areas in the background caused  the subject to darken even with flash.   Improving my understanding of flash and ambient light exposure together is  something I will be working on now that I’m home for a few weeks.

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Madera Canyon Day 5 00848-1.jpg


After a week in the Blue Mountains of Oregon on an unsuccessful quest for Great Gray Owls  a couple of weeks ago, it was a welcome surprise to find a nesting family of Elf Owls  at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon where we were staying on our hummingbird adventure.  The Great Gray is the largest owl in North America and the Elf Owl is the smallest.  We watched and waited at the nest cavity for the adults to arrive and feed the nestlings one evening.  They were close to fledging and leaving the nest.  As it got darker, one of the three nestlings took a peek at the group gathered below its telephone pole nest cavity.  The adults didn’t arrive until after we’d left and the family was gone by the next night.  I got one photograph of the tiny owlet.

Day 1 Elf Owl nestling.jpg

2018—Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

This is Day 3 of Madera Canyon.  I continue to be excited and thrilled about my improvements in technique and understanding of using flash for photographing hummingbirds.  But more importantly, I am loving photographing hummingbirds more than ever.  We shoot starting at first light each morning, gathering at 5:00 AM so we won’t miss an opportunity and shooting until 8:30 or 9:00.  Then we go to breakfast. When we return to Santa Rita Lodge, we spend another 3 to 5 hours shooting hummingbirds again.  In between we go on field trips or photograph other birds in the area.  But the focus in on photographing hummingbirds.

The monsoons have arrived in Arizona I and every day there are downpours.  Sometimes it becomes too heavy to continue shooting but on this day, after we returned from our midday field trip to Patagonia, Moose offered to set up the garden area where we’ve been shooting in the afternoons.  It had begun to rain steadily and everyone else opted out of the photo shoot except for Moose and me.  As the rain got heavier, we covered our gear with towels to soak up the moisture and continued shooting because the hummers were still coming to the feeders.

Madera Canyon Day 3 Male Broad-billed rain drops.jpg

This Broad-billed Hummingbird is approaching his feeder while the raindrops surround him.  His head is covered in tiny raindrops.  And not only was this hummingbird’s head covered with raindrops, Moose’s and mine were too.  But, the rain’s duration was relatively short, it didn’t rain hard enough to force us inside to save our camera gear, and  we continued to get some great photographs during the rain.  I didn’t mind that those raindrops were falling on my head.

2018—Madera Canyon—Day 2

I’m still feeling great about my progress in Madera Canyon.  By our second day here, I was already taking more successful photographs in a couple of hours than I did on the entire Madera Canyon workshop last year.  And, I’m learning how to fine-tune my technique to get even better photographs.

Tuesday morning we spent a few hours on the Santa Rita Lodge patio and I took about the same number of good photographs as I did on Day One but after seeing yesterday’s successes and analyzing my failures, I was able to apply lessons learned and took three times as many successful in-flight photographs today than I took yesterday.  I’m definitely more comfortable with the technique we’re using but one of the problems I’m still having is getting a small, distracting piece of feeder in a corner of the photograph.  Until today, I have had to Photoshop out those distractions.  While I have managed to photograph the hummers on rare occasions without any distractions from the feeders, most of my photographs have had a smidgeon of the feeder in one corner.  Now my goal is to avoid getting them in the photograph altogether unless it is a part of the story I’m trying to tell.

Day 2 Male Broad-billed Hummer blog.jpg

This photograph of a male Broad-billed hummer is similar to those I posted yesterday, but unlike those photographs, this photograph never saw Photoshop.  It remains exactly as I shot it.  The trick:  use Nikon’s Auto Area AF which uses closest subject priority to lock in focus.  I learned from Moose is to prefocus on a place near the feeder where the birds are expected to fly in to feed but without the feeder showing.  Be patient and  poised to take the shot when the birds  fly into the viewfinder.  Auto Area AF grabs focus on the bird when it flies into the frame.  The trick is to trigger the shutter release when the bird is in the right place in the frame.  This is my best shot to date.

2018—Madera Canyon — Day 1

I’m back at Madera Canyon in Arizona photographing hummingbirds again.  We are using a different flash setup than last year’s and so I spent time in the weeks before the trip familiarizing myself with new equipment (micro soft boxes instead of reflectors) and learning manual flash settings and how to adjust flash output quickly on the camera body.  My practice has paid off.    In general, I consider my first day a success. I must learn to be more adept at quickly modifying exposure settings in the camera and flash output as the light changes because every second not looking through the viewfinder can be a missed opportunity. And acquiring focus on these fast moving birds is sometimes impossible. But l’m working on these things.

Day 1 Male Broad-billed Hummer 002

This is a male Broad-billed Hummingbird.  He is a little battle scarred near his throat from skirmishes around the feeders.  He’s in focus but is crowding the right side of the frame a little.

This is another male Broad-billed Hummingbird.  He’s just backed away from the feeder and his tongue is still extended a bit.  I took this later in the day when I was a little more comfortable with my technique. His placement in the frame is better. The flash, intended to light the colors, especially the bird’s gorget, worked as I wanted it to.

There seems to be lots more activity here at Santa Rita Lodge this year than last.  And we saw Mr. Wonderful (a Magnificent Hummingbird, one of the largest species of hummingbird) more often today than we did on all of last year’s trip.  I’m very happy with my first day results. I’m looking forward to a magnificent week of shooting!

2018—Quite a Pair

Faith and Matt are siblings.   At their ages, they have unbounded energy.  Spending an afternoon photographing them was quite a challenge for me.  Their attention span, especially when it requires standing still for a minute, is very short.  I had great plans to use off camera flash and soft boxes, but, as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”  The flashes and soft boxes never made it out of my camera bag let alone used to add some fill light in the dappled shade.   I did enlist their mother to hold the reflector overhead to shade them when the midday sun created too many distracting specular highlights in the background and on their faces.  After deciding that the wheelbarrow wouldn’t work as we’d hoped to get a shot of them both in it, Faith settled down and Matt looked over her shoulder, grasping the edge of the wheelbarrow.  A perfect, unanticipated pose.  They make quite a pair.

Faith and Matt 1 blog

2018—Mechanic on Duty

We passed through Hood River, OR on our way to the Portland airport a couple of weeks ago and spent a couple of hours admiring the collection of planes and cars at the fascinating Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum there.  One corner of the museum housed a vintage mechanic shop (with a couple of modern plastic crates thrown in).  It looked as if the resident mechanic had just stepped out for a cup of coffee and would be back at any moment to fix a carburetor.

WAAAM mechanic shop.jpg

2018—A Boy and his Dog

The other day I had my annual birthday photo shoot with my friend Noelle’s daughter Faith.   Faith is turning 8 in a few days. This day, Faith’s older brother Matt joined us.  Matt will soon be 13 and, unlike Faith who is a ham in front of the camera, Matt was wishing he were anywhere else but where he was.  Daisy the Dog tried to help her buddy feel better by giving him a reassuring a slurp.

Matt and Daisy.jpg