Tuesday, September 30, 2014

More Contrary Birds

In Keeping with yesterday's theme, here are more photos of the hummingbirds visiting the hanging baskets of petunias. We are still seeing an occasional hummingbird and I'm assuming they are migrating from farther north.

Notice how you can see through the wing on this last photo.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Rule of the Contrary

There is a rule floating around out there in the ether similar to Murphy's Law which states that almost the opposite of what you expect to happen will happen. I have been aware of it for long enough that I have used it to affect outcomes.

Let me give you an example. There are two lines at a drive-up bank. One has two cars, the other three. It seems obvious that I should get in the line having only two cars, insuring I get to the window at approximately the same time as the third car in the other line. Except I know about the Rule of  the Contrary and outwit it by taking the fourth slot in the long line. (This also works in lines at grocery stores and large box stores too, by the way.)

I wouldn't normally post a butt shot, but I thought it was interesting
to see how they let their feet just hand down while sampling the flowers.

And, sure enough, the guy at the head of the line is not only doing his personal banking, but his boss also asked him to drop off the receipts from the day's business and I am going to be in line for a freaking hour watching the other line and wondering if I should jump ship and get in that line where fully nine people have completed their transactions and left. That, my friends, is the Rule of the Contrary.

I mention it because it also applies to many other situations, including filming birds. We had hanging baskets of petunias on the front porch all summer, but I never saw a hummingbird pay them a bit of attention. In order to have at least the possibility of filming a hummingbird at a flower I decided the best course of action was to go to a nursery and purchase a flower that they might find attractive and hang it near the feeder. No sooner had I done this and hung it up than I saw the hummingbirds paying visits to the petunias. Of course, when these visits occurred, the camera settings would be all wrong and I would be set up a little too far away and, by the time I had adjusted camera settings, they would be gone.

So, here are some of the pictures I took, mostly at some distance, when the hummingbirds would visit the petunias hanging on the porch.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Do The Ends Justify the Means?

Up until recent times, I think most people accepted photographs unquestioningly as depicting something that really happened. Unless it was outrageously altered. The introduction of Photoshop changed all that - despite the fact that people have been modifying pictures almost since photography's inception. There is a famous photo of several people standing with Josef Stalin which was "re-imagined" over the years as Stalin had them eliminated one by one.

Almost any professional photograph you see has been altered in some way. So the question is not "if" but, rather, "How much manipulation is acceptable?"

I read a lot of photography magazines where photographers claim they have only adjusted a picture to depict the scene as it appeared when they took the image. Well, guess what? Eyes can be fooled and, for that matter, so can memories. Even those of a photographer. That is a proven fact. That beautiful orange you saw in the sunset may not even be close.

The original unretouched photo straight out of the camera

So, I have to ask: If I can adjust a photograph to take it from very nice to spectacular, should I? My answer is, "Why not?" Glamour magazines are notorious for "polishing" photographs of models and other celebrities.

After opening in Adobe Lightroom and making adjustments to color, tone, etc.

For me, it boils down to the context in which a photograph is presented. Standards for journalism (a field where truth should prevail) are far different than the standards used to create a movie poster.

After opening in Photoshop and using it's capabilities as well as a plug-in to "polish" further

I don't sell my photos, so my opinion concerning my personal photographs is that I can pretty much do whatever pleases me - even if that involves some heavy "polishing!" I may not sell my photos, but if you see something you like, let's talk.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Red Fox

I recently mentioned how I was able to photograph a red fox that was almost daily passing through our yard  and said I would post some of the photos.  So, as promised, here they are.

The fox was very interested in the birds at the feeder and, although it knew I was there, pretty much ignored me since I wasn't moving. With a camera in your face in a window, you don't look human.

If you are going to try something similar, there are a couple of tips on how I did it I would like to tell you about. The first is that I used the house as a "blind." All the shots were made from inside the house through an open window. For some reason, animals such as the fox (but this also includes birds) are not spooked by taking pictures of them through a window of a house or even the window of a car. That is why many parks having driving tours where you can observe and film birds from your car.

The fox used two methods when it approached my yard - the blitz and it's polar opposite: stealth.

I had to take the lower sash out of the window in order to remove the screen on an upstairs bathroom window. I didn't want the screen interfering with the telephoto as I tried to catch the fox coming through the woods to enter our yard.  I waited for quite a while but I had something else I wanted to do, so I left the camera in place and started down the stairs.

Then I heard something that changed my mind. It was a flock of crows (flocks of crows are known as a murder) that were raising quite a fuss. Crows in their wanderings will come across an animal they don't like such as a fox or a hawk and worry it to death, sounding the alarm and letting everything within a mile know there is a threat to the locals. I always pay attention to their alarms because you are always sure to see something out of the ordinary.

They tipped me off to the fact that the fox was close. Otherwise, I would have in all likelihood missed it. I had a pretty good idea the fox was coming because the din was growing steadily louder and closer. Sure enough, I spotted the fox moving through the woods at a fast clip and heading for my yard. It is nearly impossible to shoot a camera set on auto focus in woods. It wants to focus on every little branch and leaf between you and your target and is especially frustrating if the subject is moving. I was able to get a couple of shots, but they were not completely sharp.

As you can see from these photos, the adjectives used to describe a fox are well deserved. Look up "cunning" or "sly" or "crafty" or "clever" and there is sure to be a picture of a fox by each one.

The fox stood out in the original picture, but it gave me the
idea to isolate it still further to make it stand out even more.

They don't stay in an area for long. As the small mammal population becomes depleted, they move on to new territory. They are omnivores, which means not only do they eat small rodents like moles, squirrels, mice, chipmunks, woodchucks and such, but there are also certain plants it will eat.

One of my favorite shots is this image of the fox pausing on the edge of the woods before crossing the neighbor's lawn, making sure it was safe to do so. Like other canines, their posture and ears can give you some idea of what they are thinking.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Odd Shots Too

Well, this first one is not actually that unusual. There is always one hummingbird that claims a feeder as it's own and defends it against all comers. When the bird is not at the feeder, it will be in a nearby tree keeping guard.

I like this photo, mainly because it reminds me of the Dreamworks logo with the boy fishing on a crescent moon. The curve of the branch the bird is sitting on reminds me of this and it is reinforced by the moon-like highlights in the background.

Here is another hummingbird caught in the act of taking off which, as I have said before, cannot be anticipated.

I didn't realize I had so many of birds taking off.  Speaking of taking off, I saw a hummingbird yesterday that needs to head south. Hopefully, it was just passing through on it's way in that direction.

This is another stretch shot from a different angle which has to be studied a little before you realize what the bird is actually doing.

I watched as a hummingbird flew into a crepe myrtle to sit where it could keep an eye on the surrounding area. I like the photo because it tells a story of a very small bird in a great big world.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Odd Shots

Here is an eclectic collection of photographs where the hummingbirds were caught in slightly unusual poses. Just like humans, birds enjoy a good stretch, and hummingbirds tend to stretch quite often.

This pose puts me in mind of the man of steel.

I have watched birds for years and I cannot think of one bird offhand that gives you any indication it is about to fly. I take that back; Canada Geese will often increase their honking before they fly. But, I know of no bird that will, for example, bend at the knees like a human might to jump or take off. They just take off without warning. So, to catch a hummingbird taking off like I did in this shot, is completely random.

Here is another random shot of a hummingbird with it's bill parted. You can just make out it's tongue lying inside.

Here is another stretch shot. I know of a couple people who throw their arms behind them like this and stretch but, for the life of me, I don't see how that would be comfortable.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The 'ole Bait and Switch

Peanut butter on the backs of branches interested several different animals.

Another related subject to the idea of staging is the question of whether there is anything wrong with using food to "bait" an animal into coming to a certain location to be photographed.

Before you answer, remember that a hummingbird feeder and birdseed feeder would both qualify as attractants or bait. So would use of a recorded bird call to lure a bird into an area.

Two rules in the personal code of ethics I use is to do no harm to the animal and to not impede it's ability to leave if it so desires. In fact, I try to minimize my presence so I am ignored by the animal either by limiting my movements when they are near or by using a blind.

Turns out, squirrels love fig newtons

A couple of years ago, we had a red fox regularly pass through our yard. It seemed to be attracted by the birds at the feeder and I'm sure it would have eaten a bird if it could have caught one. It is one of the only times I intentionally baited an animal to lure it in with the intention of photographing it.

Baiting the fallen tree was like dressing a Christmas tree. A fig newton
here, some peanut butter there. That is peanut butter on the back of it's paws.

Although it was passing through regularly, it wasn't staying long enough to take many photographs and I wanted to slow it down a little. It would run into the yard at top speed in an attempt to use surprise as a means of catching a bird. So, I bought a cheap cut of meat at the grocery store, drove a nail into a nearby tree about seven feet up, tied a piece of fishing line to the nail and tied the meat in such a way that the line passed through the center of the meat making it a little harder to walk off with. I made the line short enough so that the fox would have to stretch on it's hind legs to investigate the chop and, thus, slow it's passage through the yard.

Making sure it gets every bit of peanut butter

The day the fox discovered the meat, it did stay longer than at any other time, but it really wasn't the meat that kept it there. On this occasion, it was using stealth, sneaking in slowly and moving quietly, trying to catch a bird off guard. It didn't catch a bird, but I was able to take many photos of the animal before it finally checked out the meat. It didn't seem to be aware of the bait until near the end of it's stay. The photos I took while it was retrieving the meat were not as useful as the others I took that morning. What I did learn that morning was a fox lives up to every word used to describe it.

Where are the fox pictures? That's another bait and switch. I'll post some fox pictures one day soon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

All the World's a Stage

Have you ever thought about whether there is anything ethically wrong with using props to try to make a photograph more attractive? Do props make the photographs less interesting because an attempt was made to stage an animal?

I had never considered using props until a pine tree fell in our yard, narrowly missing the back deck. Since it was in close proximity to the bird feeder, it didn't take me long to realize how much better the birds looked when they were perched on a branch of the tree waiting a turn at the feeder. I ended up leaving the tree where it had fallen for several months over the winter and not removing it until spring. I probably would have left it longer but I didn't want the neighbors to think I had completely lost it.

So, was there anything ethically wrong with taking photos of birds and other animals in that tree? It wasn't like I purposely staged it. If you take a picture of a lion at the zoo and there is no evidence within the image to suggests it was taken in a caged environment, are you ethically required to tell every viewer the big cat wasn't roaming the savanna?

Notice how the Ruby-throated humminbird has a bandit
mask similar to a raccoon when you look at it straight on.

My own take on staging is that as long as you freely disclose the fact that something was staged or you do not attempt to actively deceive someone with the image, it is perfectly all right to use props. How would it have changed the images if, say, I had dragged the tree to that spot as a prop?

Using the driveway as a background resulted in a much different look. 

You may have noticed a rope in some of the pictures of the hummingbirds. It came about from past experience. Knowing that I would need high shutter speeds if I was going to freeze the wing motion of the hummingbirds, I knew I would need more light than I could get by filming the feeder hanging on the porch. Also from past experience, I knew that the trees in the woods at the edge of the yard made a good background, but I needed to have the flexibility to use areas where the sunlight was giving the ambient light a boost. That meant being able of move the feeder around rather than have it rigidly tied to one spot.

Hummingbirds are very aggressive in guarding a feeder as their own. You
seldom see two tolerating each other unless it is parent and offspring.

So, I ran a rope from the porch to a basketball pole across the yard which allowed me to not only hang the feeder, but also move it to any location I wanted to take advantage of the current lighting conditions. I also hung the Mandevilla next to it so that when the birds came in, they also had the opportunity to check out the flower. I needed to be able to align the feeder, the camera and specular sunlight in the background to have nice pleasing light. So the images were highly staged and little was left to chance.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Prop Me Up Too

I am glad I discovered the Mandevilla plant at the nursery. It is a beautiful flowering plant in it's own right - even without using it to attract hummingbirds.

When I bought it, it had a bamboo trellis to train it to grow upward. I removed it, however, and let the plant trail downward. When I repotted it a few days ago I put a small trellis back into the pot. I am going to let some of it hang. It didn't seem to mind and I think it would probably work as a hanging basket on a porch or overhang.

Mandevilla come in a range of colors from white to pink to red. If you google the name and click on images, you will get a good idea of it's nature. In more tropical climates, it can grow quite large and the long-lasting blooms are impressive. Notice how many of even the larger ones are in pots. I can't imagine how some of those are taken in over the winter.

Individual blooms are long-lasting, staying fresh for at least a couple weeks from my observation of the plant as I filmed the hummingbirds. It isn't like some flowers that bloom for a day and are gone.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Prop Me Up

Using the Mandevilla flower as a prop for the hummingbirds didn't work as well as I had hoped. While the hummingbirds did check it out occasionally, there were days where I never saw them go near it.

Over the next two days, I am posting most of the images I was able to capture of the hummingbirds at the Mandevilla.

The birds were very fast and it was hard to keep up with them with the camera. There were times where I came up with absolutely nothing or blurred photos because they moved so fast, I couldn't focus on them fast enough.

The birds didn't seem to particularly like the taste of the flowers. The blooms last a long time, however, so may be they had gotten all the good stuff when they first found the flowers.

I was out on the front porch yesterday repotting the Mandevilla when I heard the hum of wings. A hummingbird had flown in and was sampling the blossoms of a petunia in a hanging basket. I still had the feeder up also and, after flying up to me to check me out, she flew over to the feeder and got a drink. It was the first one I had seen in almost a week. I guess I will leave the feeder up for a few more days.