The iPad is a great substitute for a reflective black surface for macro images until Amazon sends my black acrylic sheets. This lily is another image created using Nikon’s in camera Focus Shift shooting option, 160 shots, and merged into one stacked image using HeliconSoft’s HeliconFocus software. I had to try this a couple of times before I got a final image I liked.
John Travolta, eat your heart out! This hummer’s got the moves! I guess I should start by apologizing to the Broad-billed Hummingbirds of Madera Canyon. It’s an extreme anthropomorphism, I know, but when I saw the wing positions of this Broad-billed Hummingbird, I couldn’t help but think of John Travolta posing one arm up in his signature white suit in Saturday Night Fever. I can still hear the BeeGees belting out Stayin’ Alive!
My new Nikon Nikkor Z MC 105mm macro lens is such a joy to use. It is light weight and versatile. It gets right into those nooks and crannies that often get over looked. I wanted a subtle reflection of this strawberry but a mirror or glass over a black background would create a double reflection which I didn’t want. Then I remembered watching a KelbyOne video about wedding photography back when I was getting ready for the first of my two unfortunate forays into wedding photography. Scott Kelby used an iPad as the background for a closeup of a pair of wedding rings. My old iPad worked perfectly for this background and gave the results I’d hoped for. I shot this strawberry using Nikon’s focus shift feature in the Nikon Z 6II with a couple of NikonSB5000 speed lights set to very low power. Then, using HeliconFocus, software from HeliconSoft that I learned about from Nikon Ambassador Joey Terrill, this nifty software magically took 40 raw images and within a couple of minutes merged them into a single stacked image with all parts of the strawberry in sharp focus.
Rufous Hummingbirds are intensely orange and their feathers, especially their gorget, reflect a brilliant
orange color, reminiscent of the rarest type of Topaz that is a reddish orange, also known as
Precious Topaz. These small hummingbirds are feisty and belligerent. They sought dominance at the feeders in Madera Canyon and the hum of their wings was as loud as the loudest hummers so their presence was always announced by the buzzing sound of their wings.
The feeding frenzy that surrounded us in Madera Canyon kept the birds in almost constant motion. Hummingbirds have such a high metabolism rate that they must feed almost constantly during the day. They visit feeders or flowers to gather nectar several times every hour. But in between, they take a few moments to rest and watch what’s going on around them. Their need to feed every ten to fifteen minutes makes them predictable and easy to find if you have feeders or favorite blossoms in your garden. Capturing them with your camera is not as easy as finding them, however. When they’re perched like this Broad-billed Hummingbird, they’re a little easier to photograph, at least until they leave to fly to the feeders.
Watching the Northen Pygmy Owls for hours one afternoon in Madera Canyon was a delightful way to pass the time. Northen Pygmy Owls are among the smallest owls in North America. The Elf Owl, the smallest owl, nests directly across from our cabins at Santa Rita Lodge and one evening, we did see one, peering out of its nest cavity in a telephone pole about twenty feet up but we didn’t photograph it because it was dark. On the other hand, the Northern Pygmy Owls spend lots of time outside in the daylight and we were fortunate to photograph two siblings. The top photograph is the first one we watched for several hours before it flew toward its nest mate in a far tree. The second photograph is the more newly fledged owlet. They both have taken on the appearance of the “wise old owl” already at their young age. Amazingly, these little guys are only about an inch bigger than the Rivoli’s Hummingbird
The Rivoli’s Hummingbird is such a spectacular hummingbird that every time I see one, especially the males like this one, I am awestruck. Their size, of course, seems so unusual because we always think of hummingbirds as tiny creatures and this one is as big as a House Finch. And the sound of his wings can be heard from quite some distance so you’re alerted to his presence. But, when the light is just right, the colors of his gorget and crown are startlingly gorgeous. When I took this shot on our last morning in Madera Canyon, the flash created a reflection of the brilliant emerald green color onto the top edge of his wings and onto the feathers on his sides. He paused ever so briefly and then he was gone.
This year at Madera Canyon seemed to be the year of the Rufous Hummingbird. About a half dozen of these tiny dynamos of the hummingbird world visited the feeders. Their rufous coloring is such a contrast to the Broad-billed hummingbird which dominates the area by the numbers. But the tiny Rufous Hummingbirds were a commanding presence and they were energetic pistols as they defended their chosen space. The hum of their wings was as loud as the much larger Rivoli’s and we always knew when they were in the area.
This Broad-billed Hummingbird is another example of a flying jewel from Madera Canyon. Throughout the week, I alternated between using my Nikon D6 and my Nikon Z6II both with the Nikkor 500mmPF telephoto lens. Both cameras gave me spectacular results. I took the first shot using the Nikon D6 at full resolution, without high speed crop. I took the second shot using the Nikon Z6II also at full resolution. An extension tube mounted between the lens and the camera reduced the minimum focusing distance of the lens by almost two feet which made a big difference in image size because I was able to get closer to my subject. Two Nikon SB5000 speed lights, one on either side of the lens with mini soft boxes made this male Broad-bill’s feathers dazzle.
Sometimes an unexpected event can change your plans, at least for an afternoon. Last week in Madera Canyon, AZ that happened. I was reviewing images from that morning’s hummingbird shoot when Moose knocked and told me to get outside with my longest lens and a tripod. In a couple of minutes I was out the door, gear balanced on my shoulder following Moose up Madera Canyon Road into the forest. Earlier that afternoon, the Northern Pygmy Owlets from the nest we’d heard about had begun to fledge and Moose and Sharon saw one fly to another branch so Moose hurried back to get us.
Shortly after we arrived, the fledgling flew off its branch and became entangled in a rusty piece of wire fencing low to the ground. It dangled upside down for several minutes. We worried that it had injured a wing but we were relieved when it managed to disentangle itself and flew, without problems, to the ground near a tree trunk. I knelt on the trail to photograph the owl on the ground from a few feet away. In a short time, it flew up to a nearby branch. We watched it there for two and a half hours as it sat on the same branch. Time seemed to fly by as it swiveled its head 360° watching us, calling to and watching for its nest mate, and calling to its parents for food. When it flew to a nearby clearing, we discovered its nest mate. We moved again when the parents arrived as they managed to gather the family together in one tree. Papa had brought a large lizard and we watched as it fed first one owlet then moved to another branch to feed the second one. Finally, papa left the remains of the lizard with the two owlets and flew to a nearby juniper. What an incredible afternoon.
It was an unexpected treat to see first the newly fledged owlet, then its nest mate and finally both parents feeding the young owls. We watched the Northern Pygmy Owl family for more than four hours but it didn’t seem that long. The next day we learned that a third owlet had fledged. Yes, indeed, an unexpected treat. And, I didn’t miss the afternoon hummingbird shoot at all.
They are tiny gems in the sky. Their iridescent coloring is startling and gorgeous. The Broad-billed Hummingbird is a Mexican Hummingbird but a few migrate north each summer to nest in southern Arizona including Madera Canyon. They consume twice their body weight in nectar daily and in Madera Canyon that means they visit the feeders that offer nourishment often. Despite their diminutive size, they are fearless, guarding their chosen feeders and chasing off others, including the Rivoli’s Hummingbird, a bird almost twice their size. We placed tiny feeders, barely an inch tall and slightly more than an inch in diameter on the hood of our long lenses and almost immediately, each feeder was claimed and guarded. They fed from them even though our heads, eyes pressed against the camera’s viewfinder, was just inches from them. Most amazing to me was that we could feel the breeze from their wingbeats on our faces as they hovered above us drinking the nectar. Occasionally a drop of nectar shaken off their beak would hit us. What an incredibly wonderful experience to have.
¡Colibrí magnífico! That’s Spanish for Rivoli’s Hummingbird which at one time was called the Magnificent Hummingbird in English. And, it is indeed a magnificent hummingbird. For the past five years, including this past week, I have had the opportunity to photograph several different species of migrating hummingbirds at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona which sits in the midst of Coronado National Forest, just north of the Mexican border. The hummingbird that quickly gets anyone’s attention there is the Rivoli’s Hummingbird. The reason? It is one of the largest hummingbirds in North American, and at more than five inches, it dwarfs all the other hummers in Madera Canyon except the Blue-throated Hummingbird. Identifying a male is easy by its purple crown and brilliant emerald gorget. The humming of its wingbeats sounds like a small motorboat and it resonates wherever this huge hummer is flying so it is obvious when he is nearby. Despite its size, it seems to be easily intimidated by the smaller hummers and when they’re being their feisty, belligerent selves, the big hummer flies off instead of skirmishing with its smaller counterparts. In past years we dubbed this hummer Mr. Wonderful because he was such a beautiful bird. This year, he occasionally cooperated so we were able to capture a few portraits of him on the wing.
California Fuchsia is a native plant that hummingbirds love so I have three of them in large pots on my patio. My goal has been to capture a hummingbird sipping nectar from the perfect flower. This morning I came close. I would have kept working at it but the sun rose above the neighbor’s roof and even though it was only 7:40AM, I could feel the intensity of the morning sun heading for 108° today. I packed up my gear and went inside.
Yesterday morning, this female Anna’s returned again and again to this small perch above the California Fuchsia. Her beak is covered with pollen from the fuchsias. She was not alone. Another female Anna’s, or perhaps a subadult, was nearby and they seemed to tolerate each other’s presence.
Next week I am going to Madera Canyon in Arizona to photograph many more species of hummingbirds than I have here in Northern California. In preparation, I have set up my hummingbird rig that includes my Nikon D6, my Nikkor 500mmPF lens, and two Nikon SB5000 speed lights with soft boxes so that I can practice with the rig and work on my muscle memory so that I’ll be better prepared for the action in Arizona. My California Fuchsia is in glorious bloom and the hummers visit often and sample from every blossom. The early morning light has been perfect so the last several mornings I set up and focused on the fuchsia blossoms with the best background. Each time, a female Anna’s has buzzed in my face, showing her displeasure at my presence which seems to have disrupted her routine. Yesterday, when she finally began to sample nectar from the back of the fuchsia, obscured by leaves and blossoms, I was hopeful. When she landed on one of the perches I have placed nearby I took a shot to double check my settings. When the hummer returned a few minutes later and began to sip nectar from the Hummingbird Mint out of sight of my camera, I removed the camera and lens only from the tripod, walked across the patio and took several shots hand held while she fed unconcerned by my presence. The blossoms on the Hummingbird Mint were well past their prime and the background wasn’t as good as the background near the fuchsia. Sometimes, if I may paraphrase Robert Burns, the best laid plans can still go awry.
For many years, I collected shells from the beaches around Port Aransas, Texas when I visited my friends Chris and Susan there for a couple of weeks each January. The shells have languished in boxes with no purpose. Acquiring my new Nikkor Z MC 105mm lens reintroduced me to that haphazard collection of sandy, broken shells. I remember one day when Chris dropped Susan and me off on an island to gather shells while he went off to fish. The island (I don’t recall its name) had so many shells that the sand was not visible and oddly, it looked like many of the shells had been there for quite a few years as they were bleached white from the Texas sun. This is a trio of shells collected that day, all bleached white. A color photograph didn’t seem that it would do these intricate shells justice so I set my Nikon Z6II to my favorite monochrome setting, Graphite (Picture Control No. 18). This setting brought out all of the intricate details of the shells even though there was no color in them. The two shells on the right are Lightning Whelks, the Texas state shell.
My new Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 lens, a macro lens, has me venturing into new territory. Macro photography intrigues me. And this new lens has me thinking in “what ifs” especially after seeing what Nikon Ambassador Joey Terrill has done with the lens. Inspired to dig around into kitchen drawers for what might work, I found a package of reusable straws that I bought for some reason even though I rarely use a straw and don’t think I’m too keen on keeping a reusable one clean. But they’re colorful and I thought they would make a good abstract subject. First, I bundled them with a rubber band and shot them straight on. Not too interesting. Then, I thought, “what if use a flash?” I did lots of ‘what if” scenarios with flash including directly behind the straws, so the light came through them. They were all intriguing but not quite right. Then I thought, “what if I pull one of the straws out a little bit?” Bingo! That made all the difference, with and without flash. It’s not really obvious that these are straws which I think is good. I like the abstract nature of it. And, in the end, my favorite image used ambient light and no flash.
Six years after declaring our independence from Great Britain, we chose the Bald Eagle as the emblem of the United States of America, because of its long life, great strength, majestic looks, and because it exists only on this continent. A magnificent emblem, indeed! Happy Birthday, USA.
My new Nikkor Z 105mm Micro lens arrived yesterday after languishing for severals days in a FedEx facility in Southern California. I have read so much about this fabulous new Nikkor lens, especially from Nikon Ambassador Joey Terrill whose macro photography has fascinated me for the past couple of years and I am excited to try lots of new techniques with this lens that are outside of my comfort zone. It offers so many unique possibilities and I look forward to venturing into new territory. I usually use my macro lens for flower photography but Joey Terrill has given me lots of ideas to try new and different things. This is my first subject for my new lens. It is a purple sea urchin shell. I have had this shell for many years but I am sorry to report that purple sea urchins have begun to devastate the once-lush kelp forests of seaweed that used to hug the California coastline. Shockingly, since 2014, 95 percent of the kelp has vanished across a large part of the Northern California coast. Despite this devastation, I decided to use this shell as my first macro subject for my new Nikkor 105mm Micro lens because of its color and because of the radiating pattern on the shell. I wanted as much as possible in focus so I took this shot at an aperture of f/40 and used Nikon’s vivid color space to emphasize the color of the shell.