"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Friday, January 13, 2017

Photographing hummingbirds can be tricky

A rufous hummingbird stretches for a landing. Photo by Steve Kaye
Here's my next column, scheduled to appear in the Orange County Register's Home & Garden section on Jan. 14. 

      Hummingbirds can fly at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, their tiny wings flapping about 80 times per second. They dart forward and backward, changing direction so quickly, it’s difficult to follow them.
      So how do professional photographers manage to capture stunning, close-up images of such fast-moving targets? It takes more than a long lens and a fast shutter speed, according to Placentia-based nature photographer Steve Kaye.
       His technique for capturing the perfect shot involves a great deal of patience, along with hours of watching and studying the birds.
       Kaye works without a flash, using only natural light. His premise: “Cause no damage, no disturbance,” he said.
       “I don’t want to want to startle or harass the birds in any way.”
       So he waits for the perfect shot.
       He took one of his favorites on a trip to Madera Canyon in Arizona. “It was after dinner at the Santa Rita Lodge and the light was just beautiful on a patch of thistle with purple flowers.”
       There he captured a resting male Magnificent hummingbird with its purple crown and metallic green gorget, or throat, illuminated in the light. Magnificent hummingbirds are a species that migrates to limited area of southern Arizona during the spring and summer breeding season.
      “I had to wait an hour for that prize,” he said.
      Photographers can plan their shots at home by planting a hummingbird garden with native plants in an area with good lighting. When the flowers start to bloom, set up the camera and wait.
      “Find where they like to perch,” he said. You can easily determine this if you watch them for a period of time, because they often return to the same spot.
      “Hummingbirds are easier to photograph than other birds, because they are quite tolerant,” he said. “Instinctively, I think they know they’re faster and more agile than others in the sky.”
       Kaye will share more of his photography secrets at the next meeting of Sea and Sage Audubon, the Orange County Chapter of the National Audubon Society, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20. His presentation, “Catch Me If You Can: How to Take Photographs of Hummingbirds,” includes a primer on basic photography with more than 100 still shots and several videos to illustrate the techniques.
       He originally developed this presentation for the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, sponsored by the Hummingbird Society, in 2015. The photos chosen for the talk were culled from thousands taken during multiple trips to Arizona. Since then, he’s been taking the material to camera clubs and Audubon chapters where he shares his photographic skills.
       Kaye’s nature photography can be found on his inspirational blog at stevekaye.com. And three of his photos appeared in the “Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America” by Stephen Shunk, which was released in May.
       The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the Duck Club at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, 5 Riparian View, Irvine. For more information, call 949-261-7963 or go to seaandsageaudubon.org.

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