This is one of our most popular shoots. WE SUPPLY ALL THE FLASH EQUIPMENT and nature supplies the birds and wildlife!
As you'll see, besides hummers, there are a variety of other birds and animals to film as well.
Highlights before you read on:
1. We supply the high speed flash and the entire set-up.
The Mountains of southern and southeastern Arizona are home to the greatest variety of hummingbirds in North America. From our base at the world-famous Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, nestled in the rugged Santa Rita Mountains, we'll concentrate upon photographing several species of hummingbirds at our feeders.
In a typical year we film three or four different species, including the brilliant and common Broad-billed, the huge Magnificent, and the less frequently seen Black-chinned, Anna's, Costa's, and occasional Broadtailed, Blue-throated, Rufous, or Calliope.
Our photographers will be shooting at our flash setups, featuring a variety of flash equipment.
You DO NOT need to know or understand electronic flash, and you DO NOT need to have your own flash equipment along! Everything is set up for you, and ready for you to start filming these incredibly colorful and exciting birds. However, the equipment that we will be using for this flash shoot is readily available to any photographer, and you will learn how to make these set-ups yourself, at home or in the field. But for this shoot -- all of that work is done for you!
You'll be photographing at a variety of electronic flash and natural light setups. Each participant is rotated on a scheduled route through all our setups, insuring the likelihood of capturing activity at each setup during the course of your shoot. It must be remembered that these are wild birds, and patience is required for success with some species. However, by having time at all the feeders over several days, most everyone enjoys success at each setup. Of course, you're also free to trade off, pass on, or substitute with your fellow participants at any feeder, depending upon what's "hot" and what's available.
Let me stress the importance of this: If you were limited to your own flash system at your own setup, you would be at the mercy of the birds visiting ONLY your feeder. Sometimes, as you'll see, birds prefer one feeder over another and ignore one setup for hours or days at a time. Imagine if that was your feeder! By rotating people through all the flash setups, you are insured to 'hit' great action through the course of the shoot, and usually every single day. That's simply not possible if you are limited to one personal flash setup.
u -- all you need to do is focus and shoot!
Natural light songbirds .... We'll have a variety of 'stations' setup for feeding a variety of songbirds common around the lodge. These include Mexican or Gray-breasted Jays, harlequin-colored Acorn Woodpeckers, Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Scott's Orioles, black-headed grosbeaks, pine siskins, and the ubiquitous House Finch.
We'll also be setting up two or more 'insect feeders,' where insectivorous birds that avoid seed feeders may gather to eat easy nutritious mealworm snacks. It's possible we'll attract the vividly colored Painted Redstart, as well as Black Phoebes, Flycatchaters, and Kinglets.
At our 'Water Set' - we set up a natural light water set that allows you to shoot virtually water-level images of birds and mammals drinking at our water set. We usually have Western gray squirrels, black-headed grosbeaks, acorn and Arizona woodpeckers, lesser goldfinches, pine siskins, house finches, bridled titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and a few other species of songbird, all drinking within easy range of your lenses. Like all of our natural light sets, the water set is available all of the time.
Flash Setups with Birds ... We'll also be trying to attract the smallest owl in North America, the tiny Elf Owl, to our insect feeders. If this works, it may be possible to film this owl perched above our insect baits. Additionally, we'll try do one or more flash setups of insect-eating birds, like the Bridled Titmouse, Redstart, and others.
Nocturnal Mammals ... The Madera Canyon area is home to a variety of interesting night-active mammals. These include Ring-tails, Raccoons, Skunks, Opossums, Kangaroo Rats, White-throated Woodrats, and Whitetail Deer. By simply walking the canyon's trails a few minutes after sunset you're likely to see one or more of these species. Some, unaccustomed to people, are extremely approachable. We also have flash setups at food sources or water lures for nocturnal shooting.
One evening you may have the option to film Bannertailed Kangaroo Rats near their dens in the desert. These incredibly cute, gerbil-like rodents are easy to film with a flash setup, provided the photographer is patient, and quiet! It's a fun, unique shoot! Because of hunta virus, we cannot take people down to the kangaroos as part of an organized shoot. However, if you wish, we will show you where the kangaroo rat burrows are, should you still wish to attempt photographing them.
Usually, by Mid-May, nectar-feeding Long-nosed Bats will visit our feeders after dark. If they do, as part of the optional Bat Shoot, we'll do a remote flash setup that's almost guaranteed to capture a bat in flight -- if they visit!
The beautiful Ring-tail, or ringtailed cat (a distant relative to the raccoon) usually visits our set-ups, and you'll also have the opportunity to photograph this semi-arboreal mammal at a special night set.
Whitetailed Deer are very common, and can be seen at almost any time of day. At our water baits, near the lodge, we'll try to capture these animals with flash.
Insects and Spiders ... Our natural light flower/hummingbird feeders often attract spectacular bees, wasps, and butterflies. In the desert, there's scorpions, and unique green Lynx spiders.
Reptiles and Amphibians ... The area around our lodge is home to several small, harmless herptile species that make great shots. Side-blotched, Striped Plateau, and Clark's Spiny Lizards sun themselves along the paths and trails. In the desert we might find Horned and Earless Lizards. For macro enthusiasts these subjects are a rewarding challenge! Along the water's edge you might find cryptically colored, but extremely cute, Canyon Treefrogs huddled on the boulders.
I always buy an Arizona Hunting License, which allows me to legally collect reptiles, especially snakes, that are crossing roads and would otherwise be smashed by cars. We usually have an opportunity to photograph one or more rattlesnakes in this way, and if you think you're not interested in snakes (and that's how most people feel), you will surprise yourself when you're comfortably photographing a rattlesnake safely and at eye-level with the snake! It's a real thrill, especially for people who have never seen a rattlesnake in the wild.
Scenics, Plants, Night Scapes .... The stream that 'usually' runs adjacent our Lodge affords wonderful riparian river habitat images. Arizona Sycamores, Alligator Juniper Trees, Cacti, Phlox, and other plants are common and attractive. Some cacti are typically in bloom in sheltered areas of the canyon, and their blooms are spectacular! The mountain landscapes, especially at the desert's edge at dusk, are wonderful. And, for those willing to stay up late, you'll have at least one chance (weather permitting) to film Star Trails framed by the rugged Santa Rita's.
For a variety of reasons, but primarily because a simple tube feeder provides the greatest opportunity for a variety of poses (and not simple side-views as would occur if a flower was used to attempt to hide a feeder), we'll be adding flowers, if required, digitally after the shoot. We provide a variety of different flowers, and we'll spend at least one non-shooting session time demonstrating how to make convincing, exciting composites.
We have a very thorough and detailed PDF and Word document file that goes through this process step-by-step, and you'll master one of the most useful aspects of Photoshop through these sessions.
Participants are invited to bring along a Portfolio of up to 40 images for projection for everyone's enjoyment and, if requested, critique.
The Bat Shoot
On each Hummingbird Photo Shoot if conditions permit we'll also be offering a High Speed Bat shoot. We'll be shooting the bats at our lodge in Madera Canyon.
In Madera Canyon we will probably shoot Lesser Long-nosed Bats as they visit one of our hummingbird feeders for a drink. These nectar-feeding bats usually return to the canyon by early May, and once here, regularly visit the hummingbird feeders to steal a drink.
Also in the canyon, if stream conditions permit, we'll be doing a setup along the stream where as many as six different species of bats may come to drink. Some years winter snow fall is so heavy that the stream is too full to provide a likely target spot for setting up a camera trap. If that is the case then we'll concentrate on the shooting opportunities at the hummingbird feeders and the nocturnal wildlife setups.
Bat photography is exciting and challenging -- which is why you don't see very many people doing this! It requires using a remote camera-tripping device like the ones we will be using -- the PhotoTrap or Range IR, and for a camera to either be hard-wired to the PhotoTrap or set on Bulb. There are advantages, and disadvantages, to either method, including obtaining a good composition and obtaining sharp focus.
To address the latter we'll photograph the bats with our cameras set on a very slow exposures, so that when a bat crosses the PhotoTrap beam the flashes will fire instantaneously. In this way, if you are focused on the beam point, you should have a perfectly focused image - provided your shutter is open at that time. This requires that you use an electronic remote release. We use Canon Electronic Releases with an accessory Long Extension (Allen's Camera sells both) that gives us more than 20 feet of working distance between operator and camera although simply 'locking' the release to the continuous firing position accomplishes the same thing. We'll show you how.
Bats do not fly all night, or they do so with sufficient irregularity that manning a camera all night isn't productive. Generally our shooting will last for about two hours after sunset, with shoots concluding between 10 and 11PM. Bat shooting is, unlike the hummingbirds, not a high volume shoot, and you can expect to expose less than thirty images per session.
With all that said, the bat photography is exciting and unique and a lot of fun, even if it is frustrating and, sometimes, unrewarding. But the effort is worth it, and one great bat photo -- unobtainable no other way -- will be worth your while! Please be aware, however, that our bat photography sessions are weather and water dependent, and if conditions are not right our nocturnal photography will only be with the other species attracted to our water sets.
Food and Lodging: The price of the shoot includes five nights lodging at the Santa Rita Lodge, world-famous among birders for its hummingbird and birding potential. Near gourmet lunches and several dinners are included, but breakfasts (except for the day to the Museum) are not. Participants will have an opportunity to buy breakfast items at the supermarket in nearby Green Valley. Lodging is based upon single occupancy. Non-photographic spouses are welcome, and will be charged only for food and transportation costs.
Image Enjoyment and Evaluation: Participants are encouraged to bring along a portfolio of images for DIGITAL projection. These can be on a CD or DVD, or most easily, simply transfered to a CF card we can load into our computer. This is a favorite activity enjoyed by most as simply a slide-sharing session, although comments, criticism, or helpful tips will be offered if desired. Should you wish, you can bring along your own slide carousel with your slides premounted. We WILL NOT have a slide projector along, however we will show your slides PROVIDED that you bring along the projector.
Flash Setups and Rotation: Participants will be assured an equal amount of time at the many setups provided. However, you're welcome to 'sit out' a session to pursue personal projects. You should have a minimum of eighteen hours scheduled time with the high speed flash systems, insuring razor-sharp images.
Additionally, you're invited to bring along your own flash systems, if you so desire, to set up a hummer station in front of your cabin. A warning, though: A few people have brought flash systems along but no one has ever, EVER, set up their own system. That's because our setups provide enough shooting, the feeders are established, the birds are coming in, and the extra work simply wasn't worth it!
Equipment Required: The shoot is designed for digital SLR equipment. A variety of lenses can be used. Most participants enjoy their greatest shooting flexibility with a zoom lens -- 70-200, 70-300, 80-400, or 100-400. A 200mm macro lens or a telephoto of 300mm or greater can also be used for most setups. If you are using a fixed telephoto, you'll enjoy best results with a 300mm and 1.4X, a 400mm, or a 500mm lens.
You may wish to bring a 200mm macro lens, or a 70mm- or 80-200mm zoom with extension tubes for close ups of hummingbirds at one of the feeders. You'll have plenty of room to bring whatever gear you might need. We will provide details on all suggested gear to registered participants.We strongly recommend that you bring along one TTL flash of your own. This can be useful for tripping our flashes in some of the hummer sets and nocturnal mammal setups (via slaves), and for TTL fill-flash for the natural light bird feeders. If you wish to shoot the mammal setups, you may need additional accessories like long cable releases or remote trippers.
For the special Bat Shoot Option, you will need a long cable release to trip your camera. Your camera will be set for a very slow shutter speed (we'll explain more at the shoot). We strongly recommend long electronic cable releases for this but a short release will also work, provided that you can 'lock' the release button so that the camera will continue to fire when set on a continuous mode. Most do, and the only exceptions are the camera models that provide a small, hand-held IF release that must be held right in front of the camera. These do not work!
Patience: As I said earlier, we are photographing wild birds. On occasion, photographers have spent an entire 1 and 1/2 hour session and exposed only five frames. Conversely, the same feeder, days later, yielded hundreds of images in the same time period. Some birds, like the Magnificent, are wary, and require either using a remote release, or being behind the camera when the bird suddenly appears at the feeder. Others are extremely tolerant of motion -- last year one participant shot headshots of feeding hummers with his macro! Although you'll probably only need one 'knock out' shot of a hummer, most participants expose several hundred images of hummingbirds, and perhaps another several hundred of the songbirds, mammals, and other subjects available with the natural light setups.
My wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable, enjoyable, and thorough shooting experience we think you'll ever experience. Both Mary and I are photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. Our work regularly appears in National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, Wildlife Conservation, and most nature/wildlife calendars.
I hope you've seen some of our books. To date I've written five, A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife; The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual; The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography; Designing Wildlife Photographs; and Photographing on Safari. Mary's written children's books, including Woodpeckers; Leopards; Grizzly Bears; Cobras; Boas; Pythons; Rattlesnakes; Garter Snakes; and Flying Squirrels, and an adult book on the Amish. Both Mary and I are at work on several new book projects. Additionally, in 1994 Mary won two first place finishes in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, in Bird Behavior and with Endangered Species.
More importantly, as photography instructors we are dedicated to providing you with the help, instruction, and information you'll need to have a most successful shoot. We're confident you'll enjoy this experience (many participants do the trip each year!), and we hope that this shoot will be just one of the many we will share together. In fact, many of our offerings are filled with repeaters, and many of our extensive trips are not advertised for this reason.
Deposit to Insure Your Spot: $500 upon registration
The Hummingbird Shoot is LIMITED to Six photographing participants. Non-photographing spouses are welcome, and a small fee is assessed for food, operating expenses, and insurance.