Monday, March 30, 2009

Cinnamon Hummingbird - Mexico

Cinnamon Hummingbird, originally uploaded by Michael A. Nelson.

This photo was taken in the Yucatan. We were staying at one of the resorts and this particular Hummingbird was seen just off the resort during a birding walk. In my travels I am always amazed at why there are not hummingbird feeders everywhere. The different types of hummingbirds that can be attracted can be quite amazing in Central and South America yet most general resorts don't have them. Hummingbirds are generally liked by not just birders, but all types of people.

I find Hummingbirds extremely hard to identify. I usually need a photograph so that I can pick it out from the many types in Central and South America.

It is great now that our one Hummingbird in Ontario (Ruby-throated) is now making its way north and should be here sometime in April. A number of them nest very close to where we keep our Hummingbird feeder. In fact wearing a red t-shirt near a Hummingbird feeder can bring some interesting results. Try it sometime!!

I remember I was amazed that the first time I did not get my feeder out in early spring the Hummingbirds would go right to the exact spot of where the feeder was the year before and just hover. The guilt quickly made me ensure our feeders are up early every year.

Join me in one of my birding tours in Central and South America. Look for details at

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Technology is changing Bird Photography

The Traditonal Approach to Great Bird Photography

Taking quality Bird photographs has always been a trade off. Buying a quality DSLR with a quality 500mm lens (the best for bird photography) would not only set you back thousands but you would have a weight of about 9-10 pounds as well as a tripod for most situations. Plus you want to take your binoculars as well, right? So you are talking about at least 12 pounds to lug around with you. Does this sound like a practical solution for bird photography if you are a serious birder and want great photographs? Now with this setup the photos you do take will be exceptional. There is no question about that. Shooting bird photographs from a 500mm prime lens sitting on a tripod will get you the highest quality photographs that technology will allow you today. But how many will you miss? Setup time is long. Can you really carry all this around for a few hours while birding? Of course not!! You will shorten your walks with the equipment and miss many birding photographic opportunities.

The Digiscoping Alternative

For many years, digiscoping was an alternative solution that many people followed and were able to capture good photographs in an affordable way. The major trade off here was the quality of the photograph and of course you still needed to carry a tripod along with you. Setup time was also a problem as it is in the first alternative above.

So what do we need to fix for a much better solution? First, we don't want to spend the kids college fund to take bird pictures. So we need something affordable. Second we need to realize that we are birders and we will be walking for hours on many of our trips so weight of our equipment is important. Lastly we want photographs that we can be proud of and hang on the wall if we so desire.

Because of all the increased technology options at much reduced prices, I offer a solution to these challenges with minimal trade offs. This is what I ended up doing myself.

The Solution

How to minimize weight?

First thing we need to do is get rid of our 500mm prime. This is the heaviest piece of equiment and restricts our mobility the most. Luckily this is also our most expensive item so helps enormously to bring our cost down. The alternative is a lower cost (not cheap), lighter (not light) 200mm - 500mm zoom lens. Tamron and Sigma choices will not only save you money but save you weight as well. You can expect to pay $800 - $1200 as a rough guideline. Your weight reduction will be around 6 lbs!

Now before everyone jumps all over me. This does create a problem. These lenses do NOT let in as much light as the more expensive 500mm lens. This is a problem that needs to be addressed which I will do later.

How do I improve reaction time and get more bird pics?

This is an easy one, we leave the tripod at home. Contrary to popular belief you can handhold a telephoto 200-500 lens and get great shots. The key is to shoot at high shutter speeds of at least 1/500th sec. This will also let in less light and greatly contibute to our lighting problem described above. What you will achieve is a reaction time that no other solution can hope to compete with.

How does AUTOISO solve my problems?

Most DLSRs today have an autoiso feature. What this does is automatically change the ISO or ASA setting with each picture you take. What this does is effectively allow you to shoot at 1/500th sec and lets say F6.3 but at a higher ISO which would allow you to take the picture that normally you could not.

Whats the problem with AUTOISO?

Shooting at higher ISO creates noise on your photographs. The conventional way of thinking which is still correct is to be able to shoot at the lowest ISO as possible.

How is newer technology solving this problem?

Two equally important technology developments are going along way in reducing noise. First, and most importantly the latest cameras are beginning to reduce noise significantly at high ISOs. I was shocked at the lack of noise in my Nikon D90. The second way is through using post processing software to reduce the noise in your images.

The photograph below of the Indigo Bunting was shot using an ISO of 2000. Although there is still some noise, it is much reduced from what you would have seen just a year ago using older technology.

There are many other advantages to shooting in the method I am describing however I do want to just get my main hypothesis out as clearly as possible. Using Flash will again minimize the high ISOs as much as possible.

I hope this has helped people think of more creative solutions in their bird photography and increase the number of quality bird photographs they are able to achieve.

Join me on one of my birding tours. Visit for details.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Memories of Point Pelee

Henslow Sparrow, originally uploaded by Michael A. Nelson.

This years Point Pelee trip is scheduled for May 4-7. I have been thinking what excitement will happen this year. Over the past 2 years we had great luck as my brother and I had seen the Henslow's Sparrow in 2007 and in 2008 we were lucky enough to get a photograph of Kirtland's Warbler. You can see that photograph in an earlier post.

The Henslow's Sparrow was so tired from its long trip that we were able to get a few photographs. Here is one from my collection.

I have recently returned from my trip to the Yucatan and have some great photographs that I am excited to share with you. I am just getting over a bad cold and should be able to put them up soon.

Join us on one of our tours, visit for more information.