The rains are coming

I moved into my new house in San Juan Cosalá on the shore of Lake Chapala back in February of this year and, until a few days ago, we had not seen a single drop of rain. However, we do have the harbingers of the rainy season, the so called ‘rainbirds’ which traditionally begin singing six weeks before the first rains fall. 

The Rainbirds

Not birds at all the Rainbirds are in fact a species of cicada, or chicharra, living underground for the majority of the year only emerging to begin their song. Actually only the males produce the noise and not, as is popularly believed, by rubbing their legs or wings together! They actually have a special organ, called the tymbal, that produces the noise. The noise level, actually a mating call,  is incredible, recorded at up to 120decibels, and if one were to have one of these insects up against the ear canal would be quite capable of damaging the ear drum.

Once the rains start the insects mate, lay their eggs in the soil and the adults die and that’s it for another year.

Cicada or Rainbird
Cicada or Chicharra – also known in the region as the rainbird – not the prettiest bug.

Nikon D3s, Nikon 24-70mm lens at 70mm, 1/250th @ f18, ISO 800, one flash at 45° on each side and a third flash lighting the background

The above specimen was ‘singing’ out on my deck so took the opportunity to transfer it to my light tent for a quick portrait shot. The light tent is great for this sort of subject producing nice even light and isolating the subject.

And, over the last two days the rains have started to fall – right on time with forecasts of rain pretty much every night and thunderstorms over the next weeks. Yes, it really does, in general, only rain in this region at night!

 

 

 

New Workflow with Capture One

As many of you that have followed my admittedly intermittent blog postings will know, I was extremely disappointed when Apple dropped development of their professional imaging program back in 2014, forcing a move to Adobe Lightroom. At the time there really was, in my humble opinion, no viable alternative. Te next blow was Adobe’ decision to move their products to a subscription based model, which I was somewhat opposed to having always owned my own software.

Now, Lightroom is a great program with a host of features but I never really liked three aspects:

  1. The RAW conversions from my Nikon cameras were never quite up my expectations
  2. I just did not like the interface, having to constantly switch modules depending on what I was wanting to do
  3. I had to keep all my images in one huge library as, to switch libraries, meant quitting and restarting

Over the past few years I have tried various options to try and help solve some of these issues, including

  • Using Nikon’s own Capture NX2 software for RAW conversions – nice results mostly but way too slow when handling large volumes of images
  • Investigating various databasing options but none really fit with my workflow, mainly because I didn’t want to add yet another layer to my workflow
  • Trying just about every independent RAW converter on the market to see if there was one that met my requirements

There was one program that I kept coming back to each time a new iteration was announced, PhaseOne’s Capture One Pro.

Capture One Pro 8 – Great RAW conversions, but the catalog was soooo slow to open.
Capture One Pro 9 – Great RAW conversions, catalog marginally quicker but still not fast enough.
Capture one Pro 10 – Even better RAW conversions , and the catalog was now much quicker. I came within a whicker of taking the plunge and making the purchase, even building a complete catalog for my wildlife and nature images but the darned thing kept crashing. It just wasn’t stable enough.

Capture One 11 (Yes the Pro designation has gone from the name but what a Pro program this has turned out to be.) The best RAW conversions with the minimum of post processing work, rapid catalog opening with quick image searches and so many new features including the ability to add layer adjustments for just about every adjustment type available. Painting a layer adjustment mask, and refining the edges has become incredibly straightforward with the added advantage that all masks (you can add up to xx) can additionally have the opacity adjusted, a boon for fine control of each masks effect

In fact, Capture One 11 is worth the price (and yes, you can either buy it $x and own the software or opt for a monthly fee of $x) just for the amazing power of the layers.

Working in Capture One now provides me with a workflow that fits perfectly with the way I like to deal with my images.

  1. Download from the card into Photomechanic. Sort, delete outtakes, caption and keyword. (More on the way I do this in a future blog). After all images are ready they are moved onto the main images hard drive and at the same time renumbered to reflect my numbering system. Images are automatically backed up daily onto second and third mirrored drives.
  2. Images are imported into Capture One 11 ensuring that the check box for Exclude Duplicates is on and that files are left in their current location – i.e. the Main Images Hard Drive

    Import dialogue
  3. As images are already sorted and captioned I immediately start working on each image preparing it for it’s intended use – i.e. For publication, upload to my representing agencies prepared for the website etc – (more on outputting the images for final use later)
  4. All the preparation and outputting of images in Capture One 11 takes place within  a single screen – just like Apple Aperture! No switching into different modules to perform each task

Although I state a single screen this is not strictly speaking true as I do have a dual screen setup and have saved a workspace in Capture One where I have all the thumbnails on one screen and the enlarged image where adjustments are made on the second.

You can create as many different workspaces as you wish so, for example, I have created spaces for working onsite on my laptop, as well as my dual monitor setup for the office.

Capture One Process

My process for working on images tends to follow pretty much the same pattern although of course refinements are made depending on the requirements of each image.

  1. I correct any overall colour casts or white balance anomalies using the colour balance and white balance tools
  2. I perform overall exposure adjustments first setting input and output levels then using the Exposure, Contrast, Brightness and Saturation sliders
  3. I open up or hold back shadows and highlights using the appropriate sliders
  4. I now start adding layer masks if necessary to make defined and targeted local adjustments. Remember I can add layer masks for any of the adjustment tools other than vignetting and the black and white conversion tool. Using layers in Capture One has been a revelation, and is perhaps, the main reason that few images go into Photoshop. Layer masks are incredibly easy and accurate to paint onto the image
  5. I clean up the image using the Spot Removal tool and Clone and Heal layers depending on needs
  6. I crop the image
  7. I apply sharpening as necessary sometimes to the whole image and sometimes to selected portions using another layer mask.

And so far my image has not, and probably won’t, ever be opened in Photoshop. However, note that it is entirely possible to ’round trip’ an image into Photoshop or other imaging programs such as the Nik collection and Capture One will automatically create a new version for the adjustments applied and re-import the resulant version back into the Capture One 11 catalog when yu save it.

Outputting Images

Output recipes – here I am simultaneously preparing images for my Instagram account and My website galleries

Finally the point of all this work is to prepare images for final use. In Lightroom I had to set up a series of output presets and re-process each image multiple times if it was to be used for several uses, i.e. web site, Instagram, and publication ready.

Thanks to Capture One’s ‘Process Recipes” I can set up the various parameters for each use, save those settings as a recipe, and select multiple recipes at the output stage and Capture One will within a few seconds process the same image multiple times for each use – a great timesaver.

Other features

There are many features of Capture One that I don’t use but that would still be of great value to other photographers. The two most notable are tethered shooting, for which, I, at the moment have little use and annotations which allow a photographer to add notes directly onto an image when sending it to another person, perhaps for further retouching etc.

What do I still use Photoshop for?

Well, actually very little!

Occasionally if I find that I have a lot of clean-up to do on an image due to excessive sensor dust I might take the image into PS as it is quicker and better at that .

If I am compositing images, using focus stacking techniques etc. then PS would be the tool for this, but, for straightforward, preparing images for publication than Capture One now does it all.

What do I miss from Lightroom?

Of course no program is perfect and there are a number of features I do miss from Lightroom.

Perhaps the biggest is that Capture One does not accept the use of any plugins. I have used plugins available for Lightroom to automatically send images to the agencies that handle my work and Lightroom records which images have been sent and even, with Alamy, records sales statistics for each image. I now have to output my agency images to a folder and upload using an FTP program rather than directly from the database.

To ensure I don’t send duplicates I now use the colour tags to record which images have been sent to each, not to mush of an onerous task.

DOWNLOAD A 30 DAY TRIAL OF CAPTURE ONE AND GIVE IT A TRY YOURSELF

 

 

 

New Images for 2018

I am now beginning to find my way around some of the wildlife hotspots close to my new home in Ajijic, Mexico. see the latest images gallery for a small selection of photos done since January 1st. New images are being added every few days. Also see the daily Instagram post at https://www.instagram.com/peterllewellynphoto/ 

Group of American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) feeding on fish, Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

Full details of The Pantanal tour, November 2018, and bookings will be available by January 15th – watch for updated information.

Pantanal 2018

I have just posted advance information for the 2017 Pantanal Photo Tour.

The Pantanal, a UNESCO World Heritage site is one of my favourite places in the world for wildlife and nature photography. It is an immense tropical wetland, the world’s largest, spanning three countries, Bolivia, Paraguay and the largest section, Brazil. It is the home of hundreds of species of birds along with capybara, caiman, tapir, and jaguar to name but a few. This is one of the best places in the world to view wildlife, the wide open marshes allow much easier observation and photography than the dense tree coverage of the Amazonian regions.

Click here to view details

Ashgabat 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games

I returned a couple of weeks ago from the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan where I worked as Photo Manager for the Equestrian Events and as part of the Official Photographer team for other sports. An ‘interesting’ experience for sure as I got to photograph a few sports that I had never seen before, even after 35 years+ as a sports photographer. In fact, when I found out I was going to the Games I actually had to look up several of the martial arts as I had never actually heard of them.

After an incredibly long  journey of almost 40 hours I arrived in Ashgabat – pity my baggage did not also arrive! (It would be three days before it was found at JFK and another day before it arrived in Ashgabat). Fortunately my essential photo equipment was all carried as hand baggage.  The first thing one notices on arrival, apart from the heat, is the incredible whiteness of the city. Ashgabat was entirely destroyed in an earthquake in 1948, one of the most powerful ever recorded,  with reports varying between 110,000 and 176,000 deaths. This resulted in a rebuilding programme that has seen every single building clad in white marble. More marble here than any other city on earth. What is remarkable is that this tragic event was not reported to the world until after Turkmenistan gained independence from the USSR in 1991.

Typical marble clad buildings, Ashgabat – Nikon 1 V3, 1/4000th at f5.6, ISO 400

The sports facilities constructed in the centre of Ashgabat are truly remarkable – worthy of any world class event, and again completely clad in white marble. Spent the first few days getting to know my way around before the Games actually started. 

Opening ceremonies were of the highest order featuring a wide range of Turkmen culture and ending in a spectacular firework display.

5th Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Opening Ceremonies – Nikon D3s, 200-400 f4 lens at 340mm, 1/125th @f4, IOS 3200

Unfortunately the following day I came down with a bad bout of ‘Turkman Tummy’, a condition shared at some point with just about every person working at the games, and which, unfortunately lasted to some degree throughout the two weeks of competitions and even after I got home.

However, I continued to be able to work and covered a range of interesting competitions, including weightlifting, belt wrestling, kick boxing, sambo and even snooker.

Beltwrestling -Mens +100Kg division – Nikon D3s, 70-200mm f2.8 lens at 116mm, 1/1250th @ f3.5
Kickboxing – Mens LK 51Kg division – Nikon D3s, 200-400mm f4 lens at 380mm, 1/1250th @ f4, ISO 4000
Weightlifting mens 105kg – Nikon D3s, 200-400mm f4 lens at 270mm, 1/1250th @f4, ISO 3200
Mens snooker final – Nikon D3s, 200-400mm f4 lens at 270mm, 1/160th @f4, ISO 2500

A few sample images are seen here, but a wider selection are available by visiting the Latest Images gallery and the Martial Arts Gallery.

The final day allowed myself and a colleague to venture out with the aid of a local taxi driver (read Government minder) to see some of the local colour and architecture. One must be extremely careful photographing in this country, no images with police or military personnel, and great care when photographing certain monuments – if in doubt ask and if told no accept this without question. 

Ashgabat – Ruhy Mosque – Nikon 1V3 10-30mm lens, 1/1600 @ f8 ISO 400

A little background

Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, very much a desert country mostly dominated by the Karakum Desert. It is certainly subject to an authoritarian regime, ruled closely by current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (a self avowed sports fanatic), who’s photo appears in just about every room of every building, bus, taxi, and sports facility. I’s an Islamic state, although fairly moderate, and was once an important stop on the silk road. It declared itself a state of permanent neutrality in 1995, a state recognized by the UN.

Ashgabat 2017 – Old Nisa – Dynastic sanctuary of the Parthian Kings from late III century BC to early III century AD – Nikon 1V3, 10-30mm lens, 1/200th @f10, ISO 200

 

Nature Conservancy Top 100

The 2017 Nature Conservancy Council photography competition attracted over 33,000 entries from 141 countries.

I am honoured to announce that my entry below has been awarded a place in the top 100 entries to go forward for final judging. This includes a peoples’ choice award which you can vote for online. Please visit The Nature Conservancy Council Photo Contest to see the top 100 entries and vote for your favourite images.

Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) running at speed, Sand Wash Basin, Colorado, USA

This image was taken with a Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400 f4 lens (set to 380mm), 1/1250th @ f4.5, ISO 200 

Pronghorns can run at speeds up to 53mph (85 kph) leaving potential predators far behind making them the second fastest land animal in the world after the African cheetah and by far the fastest animal in N. America. Not only sprinters but long distance runners they raise the white hairs on their rumps when startled which can be  seen for miles.

 

Lady in red

Several people have asked how I produced the ‘Lady in Red’ photos recently posted to my Instagram account.

Here are the steps I use in Photoshop.

  1. Choose a photo that will convert well to black and white but which has a small area of a vibrant colour that you can bring back. Bright warm colours generally work best i.e. reds and oranges. Good subjects that work well are a bright red vehicle, red rose, red dress etc.

    El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Solidad (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude), Tlaquepaque, Mexico
  2. Open the image in Photoshop and create a black and white adjustment layer
  3. With the new adjustment layer active you will now see a black and white version of your image
  4.  Select the Eraser tool (This may be hidden behind other eraser tools)

    Select the eraser tool
  5. Use a suitable sized brush with a fairly hard edge and carefully paint away the top layer revealing the colour underneath. It helps to zoom in on the area you are working on. If you have a pressure sensitive tablet it makes this much easier than using the mouse

    Paint away to reveal the layer beneath
  6. Now flatten the image into a single layer )Layer-Flatten image

And that’s all there is to it!

Lady in red

Shoot your dog

Yep – many is the time I have uttered the phrase “I’m gonna shoot that Bl#*!%%& dog”, especially on returning to the kitchen to find that once again my darling little Springer Spaniel had managed to get food off the counter top. The last time eating more than a dozen freshly cooked chocolate brownies which resulted in a dash to the emergency veterinary clinic as chocolate is extremely toxic to dogs. Love her really!

My springers – the chocaholic is on the right!

However this isn’t about taking your dog outside with your shotgun, more abut about going outside with your camera to capture the amazing range of personalities dogs exhibit.

  • For dramatic photos get down to eye level with your pet. So many make the basic mistake of standing over your dog (or any other pet including children!) and shooting down. This results in an odd perspective in your photos. (Although it can still be a great shot f you get over your dog and getting him looking up at you) In fact I give the same advice for any animal photography including wildlife, try, wherever possible, to get to the eye level of your subject. (Although it can still be a great shot f you get over your dog and getting him looking up at you)
Golden Retriever Puppy, four weeks old
  • Use a long lens, preferably 100mm or more, again this gives a more pleasing perspective than getting close to your animal with a wide angle, resulting in a huge nose and tiny ears
  • Timing – not only your timing in capturing the moment but also the best time to take your photos. Take your action images before your big walk so your dog is still full of energy, your portraits afterwards so your dog is a little calmer
Golden Retriever fetches duck
  • Take your time to get the best shot – all animals can be very curious as to what is going on at first and even a little afraid if you are setting up flashed images
  • If using flash it needs to be off-camera to avoid the dreaded red-eye effect
English Springer Spaniel studio shot – flash at 45degrees each side
  • Take lots of pictures – it simply increases your odds of getting  great shot
  • Enlist the help of a friend to handle the attention getting toys – but put them away if your dog is getting really wound up and distracted.
Dog poking head between fence

Image stabilization or fast shutter speed?

Recently while covering the World Junior Taekwondo Championships I was approached by someone asking what my ‘camera settings’ were. I quickly rattled off what I was using “1/1250sec, f2.8. at 4000ISO set manually”. The gentleman replied I must be using old lenses as he did not need to set his ISO nearly this high as all his lenses had ‘stabilization’ so he could shoot at much lower settings and get higher quality pictures, 2-3 stops lower and still handhold “no problem at all” so he was only using 640 ISO.

Now, I am always happy to engage in discussions about photo technique and equipment, just not in the middle of an important competition where I am working, so told this person I needed to concentrate on what I was doing but would be happy to chat if I had the time after competition had finished. Unfortunately I never saw him again so was unable to point out the errors in his thinking.

First would have been – why was I choosing to use 4000 ISO. Of course, had I thought it prudent I would have loved to use a lower setting. The choice of 4000 ISO was to give me a shutter speed high enough to freeze the action when the athletes engaged in their fast kicking movements. This required a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000sec. If I had lowered my ISO to the same 640 that this person was using and assuming I still wanted to make a correct exposure at f2.8 (the maximum aperture of the lens I was using) my shutter speed would have dropped to around 1/250th sec – not nearly fast enough to freeze the action. 

Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Alan Arcal Alcazar (ESP) in blue and Ilyas Hussain (GBR) in red compete in 48kg class. ALAMY LIVE NEWS/PETER LLEWELLYN
Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Alan Arcal Alcazar (ESP) in blue and Ilyas Hussain (GBR) in red compete in 48kg class. 

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1000 @f2.8 6400ISO – This was on an outer mat where the light was even worse than the main mat hence 6400ISO

Now comes the misconception that I have heard many times since Nikon and Canon brought out their stabilized lenses – I can shoot at much lower shutter speeds and still freeze the image. NOT SO!! What VR (Nikon’s Vibration Reduction) and IS (Canon’s Image Stabilization) actually allow you to do is to avoid camera shake at slow shutter speeds – this has nothing to do with freezing the action.

If you need 1/1000th sec shutter speed to freeze the action and have no movement blur you need 1/1000 sec, period. No amount of vibration reduction or image stabilization will affect this in any way.

Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Maria Calderon (CRC) blue and Thi Kim Ngan Ho (VIE) red, compete in female 44kg class gold medal match. Ho took the gold medal
Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Maria Calderon (CRC) blue and Thi Kim Ngan Ho (VIE) red, compete in female 44kg class gold medal match. Ho took the gold medal

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1250 @f2.8 4000ISO

Finally I would have pointed out that using 4000ISO ( and higher) is well within the capabilities of my cameras and can produce image files that can be used easily up to a full poster output. 

Shooting raw files and a bit of prudent noise reduction in Photoshop produces remarkably clean images, even in deep shadow areas.

Burnaby, Canada. 20 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships Georgii Tandelov (RUS) blue, and Aleksandr Keselj (GER) red compete in the male +78kg. final won by Tandelov.
Burnaby, Canada. 20 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships Georgii Tandelov (RUS) blue, and Aleksandr Keselj (GER) red compete in the male +78kg. final won by Tandelov.

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1250 @f2.8 4000ISO

By the way – pretty much every lens I own has VR, including the Nikon AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens I was using that day. And the VR was turned OFF. I find my images are actually sharper with it turned off when using fast shutter speeds. I only ever turn VR on if hand holding at slow shutter speeds (who said better to get a decent tripod?) or if I am working from a moving platform such as a boat, helicopter or vehicle.

Burnaby, Canada. 17 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Chan-Ho Jung (KOR) blue and Houssam El Amrani (MAR) red, compete in the semi-final of male 55kg won by Jung  Photo: Peter Llewellyn
Burnaby, Canada. 17 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Chan-Ho Jung (KOR) blue and Houssam El Amrani (MAR) red, compete in the semi-final of male 55kg won by Jung 

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1250 @f2.8 4000ISO

 

Great sports photographs

As the 2016 Olympics in Rio draws to a close I have been following with great interest images made by my colleagues- Facebook, Instagram, web sites and the press are full of great shots. This is the first Olympics since 1992 when I have not been in attendance, either as a photographer or a member of the photo  management team.

With the huge advances in technology over this time period it has become in many ways easier to get amazing photos. I was therefore very interested to see an article on today’s BBC website about a new book by photo historian Gail Buckland titled Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present. The book is accompanied by an exhibition now on at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

It makes you realise that great sports shots do not necessarily rely on the latest technology. Getting in the right position, the exposure right, and anticipating the decisive moment are still the same talents honed by taking countless thousands of photos that photographers have used right back to the early days of photography.

Take a look at the two images below, one from the Olympics of 1924 and one from Olympics 2012.
p.s. I didn’t take the one from 1924!

Olympic Games Paris 1924 Alphonse Gemuseus (SUI) riding Lucette, the gold medallist
Olympic Games Paris 1924 Alphonse Gemuseus (SUI) riding Lucette, the gold medallist – Photo Col. Poudret
Olympic Games 2008, Hong Kong (Beijing Games) August 2008, Ludger Beerbaum (GER) riding All Inclusive, Individual jumping final
Olympic Games 2008, (Beijing Games), Ludger Beerbaum (GER) riding All Inclusive, Individual jumping final –  Photo: Peter Llewellyn

Looking at the 1924 image I am in awe of the photographer who managed to capture the height of the action and an incredible degree of sharpness in his image. I had a much easier time at the 2008 Games with high speed camera, autofocus and the ability  to instantly see my image on the LCD on the back of the camera.

 

Attila the ‘Hum’ – how to photograph hummingbirds

Since being back in British Columbia we have had our hummingbird feeders out and have seen more of these mini wonders than in any previous year. We have been filling the feeders every day and if we are a little late the birds soon mob us as soon as we go outside and let us know.

Female Rufous Hummingbird
Female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in flight at a feeder

One feeder is situated on our upstairs deck, overlooking the garden and this is jealously guarded by one male Rudous Hummingbird who sits nearby waiting for intruders. As soon as another hummer appears anywhere near the feeder he rockets across the garden and there ensues a round of astonishing aerial combat – this is ‘Atilla the Hum’ who terrorises the rest of the hummingbird flock. However as soon as he is otherwise engaged other birds will rapidly take the opportunity to visit the feeder.

Male Rufous Hummingbird
Atilla the Hum – Male Rufous Hummingbird

Photographing hummingbirds can be a little challenging – their wings beat at some 60-70 times per second, and can fly at 25-30 mph in normal flight and attain 60 mph when they make their spectacular dives. Fortunately they are also able to hover virtually motionless when feeding and are the only bird that can fly backwards.

Even with today’s modern DSLR’s and their ability to shoot at shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th sec this will still not be fast enough to get those wings completely frozen. In addition to obtain these fast shutter speeds you will often need to dial up the iSO setting resulting in  loss of image quality, and open up the lens to it’s maximum aperture resulting in limited depth of field.  The answer is to use high speed flash to freeze the action.

My technique for high speed flash

There are number of ways to set up for high speed flash, but here is my method. (When I talk about high speed flash I am using regular camera speedlights, not studio strobes)

Flash settings

I set all my flashes to manual. Some photographers use TTL but I find that for this sort of work I prefer to have complete manual control. The main reason for this is that flash is providing 100% of the illumination for the photograph, therefore, once you have your camera and flash settings giving a correct exposure, you are not subject to any changing light conditions so you can be guaranteed that every exposure will be the same.

Flash duration is directly related to the output setting on the flash. The table below gives the power output and corresponding flash duration for settings with a Nikon SB910 Speedlight. Other Speedlights will be broadly similar including those by other manufacturers.

1/1 (full) output = 1/880 sec
1/2 output = 1/1100 sec
1/4 output 1/2550 sec
1/8 output = 1/5000 sec
1/16 output = 1/10000 sec
1/32 output = 1/20000 sec
1/64 output = 1/35700 sec
1/128 output = 1/38500 sec

As you can see, when you dial down the power, the flash duration gets progressively shorter, and these durations are way faster than any camera shutter. So how to put this to good use.

Camera settings

I also set my camera to manual mode when using high speed flash. Again, once you have a correct exposure there is nothing to change and you need to gain complete control for this first stage.

You need to determine a base exposure – this is an exposure at which the camera will register no ambient light in the image. (To help with cutting out ambient light it is helpful if your subject area i.e. the feeder and background are in a shady area rather than full sun). Start by setting your camera to it’s lowest ISO setting, which will additionally give the best quality in your file and the fastest flash synchronization speed. (Nikon and Canon users should not use high speed flash settings as, to achieve these fast synchronization speeds, the flash emits multiple burst of light that will have a slightly stroboscopic effect and result in blurring of the wings – the very thing we are seeking to avoid). Turn off your flashes, focus on the feeder and take images adjusting your camera aperture until you get a completely black frame, i.e. no image registering at all. I generally find something in the order of ISO 200, Shutter speed 250th (my fastest sychronization speed) and an aperture of around f11 does the trick in a shady location.

With regard to lenses you need something that focusses relatively closely whilst allowing you to remain far enough form the feeder to not disturb the birds. Something in the 300mm to 400mm range is ideal. I pretty much always use my 200-400mm f4 for these shoots as it focusses right down to 2m (6.2′) allowing frame filling shots of these tiny birds.

Finally – use a tripod! You cannot possible hand hold a long lens, focus and frame the birds with any degree of accuracy.

Placement of the flashes

Note that I say flashes – you need more than one flash for a number of reasons. First, the output is going to be dialled right down so output is going to be low (although we are going to compensate by placing the flashes close to the subject area). Second we need to light from multiple directions to avoid shadows, and third we are going to need to light the background otherwise it will register as jet black (although this in itself can lead to interesting photographs).

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in flight
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in flight – no background

Many articles will show setups with between five and seven flash heads but you can certainly get great photos with as few as three as I will demonstrate. (Note that because you are using fully manual settings you do not need thousands of dollars worth of camera brand flashes – a few cheaper models with manual settings will easily suffice such as those made by Vivitar and others).

Your flashes do need to be close to the subject area as your flash output is going to be low and will not have a lot of reach, around 12″ to 18″. To use a three light set up I place two of the flashes at around 45º with one set slightly higher than the other to give a balanced light, and a third above the background pointing straight down.

Set up using three flash heads
Set up using three flash heads

Most modern flashes also have a zoom setting. I set the two flashes in front of the subject to their maximum zoom settings to concentrate the throw of light and the background flash to 50mm to give a bit of spread over the background.

I generally start with an output setting of 1/32 or 1/64th, either of which will give an action freezing flash duration for a hummingbird wing. Take a photo, doesn’t have to have a bird in it, simple image of feeder or a flower head in the correct location will do just fine. Check the exposure on the camera and watch for flashing highlights and blown out area on your histogram. Adjust your camera aperture (never the shutter speed) until you have a spot on exposure.

Female Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) feeding at a Hosta flower
Female Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) feeding at a Hosta flower

You are going to need a method of firing the flashes. I use Pocket Wizard Radios along with some flashes set to fire  using IR slave. You can also use a sych. cord to one flash and set others to fire using either built in optical slaves or cheap add on optical triggers. Check your manuals to see what works for you.

Feeder set up

To attract the birds it’s best to set up at a feeder station they have already been habituated too. Hummingbirds are remarkably tolerant, allowing you to be very close whilst they feed. When you start shooting don’t simply fire away every time a bird arrives at the feeding station. Give them a break once in a while and allow them to feed without the flashes popping of every time they get near. It is amazing at how quickly they will get used to the flashes and other ‘stuff’ you have placed near their feeder.

Start by placing the feeder to one side of the frame. Cover any feeder holes you don’t want them to visit. If your feeder has perches remove them as the hummingbirds will provide better subject material as they hover rather than sat on a plastic feeder.

Once the birds are habituated you can start changing things up. I usually start by placing  suitable flowers close to the feeder which can give the illusion of the birds feeding on the flowers. (Make sure you only use flower heads that the hummingbirds would normally visit to avoid a false looking image). The ideal way to position your blooms is to use a Wimberley Plamp. (http://www.tripodhead.com/products/plamp-main.cfm) The next step is to remove the feeder completely and replace it with a suitable tubular shaped bloom. Grab a syringe (I have often been described as a photo junkie!) and some sugar water and ‘inject’ the flower bloom with sugar water. They may be confused for the few few visits but will soon latch on to the idea that the bloom is fill of nectar. Regularly re-fill the bloom to keep them coming.

Sit back and wait for the hummers to arrive and make great images.

Female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) feeding at a Petunia flower
Female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) feeding at a Petunia flower
One of the images I had removed from Pinterest. Obviously the poster does not believe the copyright notice means anything

Pinterest and stolen images

Every now and again I do a quick Google Images search to see which of my images are being used in various media around the world. It gives me a really good idea of  what types and styles of images are in demand and I can then ensure that I include a good selection of such images in each shoot that I do.

I usually only look at the first few images as much of my work is supplied through the photo agencies I work for and therefore there is a lot of my work out there. However, today I decided to take a deeper look and was horrified at how many of my images were published without permission or, of course, any form of licensing fee.

One of the biggest offenders is the social media site, Pinterest. Taking a look at the pages on which my images were prominently featured  it became obvious that this is a haven for individuals stealing copyrighted material.

Interestingly, Pinterest absolve themselves from all responsibility for the material posted on their site, stating in their terms of service “Pinterest has adopted and implemented the Pinterest Copyright Policy in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. For more information, please read our Copyright Policy.” In other words they will not accept any responsibility for the material that anyone may post on their site – irrespective of whether that material is someone else’e property.

Another even more worrying clause states “You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products. Nothing in these Terms shall restrict other legal rights Pinterest may have to User Content, for example under other licenses” In plain English, once material is posted to the site Pinterest can use it in any way they want, further breaching a copyright holders rights.

THIS NEEDS TO STOP!

Irrespective of whether you are a professional photographer or a complete amateur as soon as you press the camera shutter button you have created something that belongs to you, and no-one should have the right to use that image without your permission.

One of the images I had removed from Pinterest. Obviously the poster does not believe the copyright notice means anything
One of the images I had removed from Pinterest. Obviously the poster does not believe the copyright notice means anything

Now, Pinterest does provide a mechanism by which a copyright holder may make a claim that an images is being used without permission and they do undertake to remove such images – which I have done with all the images I have so far found. But in reality, I don’t have the time to go to this site regularly and search for ‘stolen’ images. Surely it should be incumbent upon Pinterest to educate their users and take a stronger line on infringements. If an image has a great big copyright sign plastered on it, is that not a pretty good indication that the user does not have the right to use it?

Sooner or later someone is going to be sued for posting images on the Pinterest site. I am aware that several actions are currently pending and it will be interesting to see how this develops.

If you are a “Pinner” be warned – do not post images without permission