photography and digital scrapbooking


Photographing a Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird: A Simple Strategy

Our feisty Ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived a little late this year. We put the feeders out in April and faithfully filled and cleaned them all summer. Finally in July, three birds decided to claim our yard as their territory. We love watching them fatten up for their long migration next month!

Today the cloudy sky created good light, so I set up my tripod, attached the remote shutter release, and carefully considered my camera settings. Determined to photograph the male hummingbird, I felt it would be easy since he was feeding and zipping around the yard all morning. I soon realized he was chasing other birds more than eating, so I needed a strategy. I decided to place all the feeders on the porch except the one in front of my camera. Then I added a misting spray of water from the garden hose to make the remaining feeder more interesting. The strategy worked and the male finally posed in all his orangey-red-throated glory!

Click photos to view in higher resolution.

All photos: Canon 60D, aperture priority, RAW format, AI Servo AF, continuous high speed, partial metering, ISO 2000, 200mm, f/11, 1/250 for the perched photos and 1/400 and 1/500 for the flying photos. Exposure compensation: -1 to help produce a proper exposure of the lighter hummingbird on the darker green background. I set the focal point on the right flower port. When the hummingbird came into that plane of focus, the f/11 aperture allowed his eyes and most of his body to remain in focus. In post processing, I was able to retain most of the light feather texture, even after increasing the exposure by about 1 stop. I experimented with reducing noise in Nik Define 2.0, but ultimately decided to accept the noise generated from ISO 2000.


Portrait of a Hummingbird

He is a trusting young bird, so I am now able to set the camera 12 inches from the feeder. During one of his visits yesterday, he stopped moving for a moment (except for sticking out his tongue), allowing me to take a macro portrait.

I tested a relatively high ISO setting during this shoot to compensate for an overcast sky and shaded feeder. If you are a photographer and use Photoshop, you might be interested in how I edited this photo for noise. I usually reduce noise in Lightroom 3. But for this photo, I tested the ‘reduce noise’ feature in Photoshop CS5 and was happy with the result.

  • I duplicated the photo, then Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise. Basic panel: Strength 8, Preserve Details, 77%, Reduce Color Noise, 90%, Sharpen Details, 10%. In Advanced panel, I set the red and green channels to: Strength 4, Preserve Details: 60%. Blue channel: Strength 7, Preserve Details, 60%.

Canon 60D, ISO 1600, 100mm, f/4.0, 1/80.

Click on the photo to enlarge.
male juvenile hummingbird


Snow Photos and Tutorial

Snow Photography Tutorial

My first attempt at snow photography went fairly well. I attached an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens to my Canon Rebel xti and headed out for a neighborhood walk.  Checking my camera manual for tips, I realized a camera’s light meter can be fooled by large expanses of white; producing snow that looks gray. The goal was to find subjects with a bit of color and capture snow that looked white.

  • The weather was mostly cloudy and many shady areas are on my walking route, so I set ISO to 400 (on the back of the camera).
  • Because a tripod was not being used, IS (image stabilization) on the lens was set to ‘on’.
  • Automatic Focus mode was set to ‘one shot’ (on the back of the camera), because still objects would be the subjects of the photos.

When preparing for your snowy photo shoots, the basic settings above may need to change depending on available light, the use of a tripod, and your choice of subjects.

After the photo shoot, I processed the RAW photos in Lightroom and Photoshop. Art Grunge#4 photo texture from Shadowhouse Creations was used to give the photos a bit of texture and a border. My tutorial on using photo textures.

Step by step techniques for your snow photography:

  1. First, turn the mode dial to aperture priority (AV) so you can control the depth of field for each photo. The camera will set the shutter speed automatically.
  2. To help achieve white snow, set the exposure compensation by pressing the shutter button halfway, then pressing the AV button on the back of the camera. Watch the viewfinder on the back of the camera and turn the main dial to the right to set positive one third stop. During your photo shoot, you can experiment with higher settings, possibly up to + one or two full stops.
  3. On the back of the camera, set the metering mode to ‘partial’. This setting will allow the camera to read the light from a small area of the scene.
  4. Next, go to the menu and set automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) to maximize your chances of getting a good exposure. Using AEB provides a standard exposure, a darker exposure, and a lighter exposure. Then set the shooting mode to ‘continuous shooting’, so you can rapidly take the three different exposures by holding the shutter button down.
  5. When you find subjects you want to photograph, point the center focal point at a neutral gray area in the scene and take a meter reading. While still holding the shutter button halfway, press and hold the * button (exposure lock) with your thumb. While continuing to hold the * button, release the shutter button, aim your camera at the subject, and compose the shot. Press the shutter button halfway to focus; then all the way to take the shots.
  6. You can also experiment with the techniques above by setting exposure compensation (#2) to a negative setting, then metering (#5) from the snow instead of a neutral gray area in the scene.

Exposure compensation, auto exposure bracketing, and exposure lock can result in much whiter snow than you can achieve with your camera’s auto setting!

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Photo Series Slideshow and Texture Tutorial

Scenery I experience everyday; made more interesting by shooting from a different perspective, cropping, and adding texture. When I add a total of twenty photos, I plan to print a photo book.

Working with Texture Overlays in Photoshop:

  • Develop your photos as usual, then crop and run actions if desired. For flexibility, do not merge layers. Then, add a .jpg photo texture at the top of the layers stack.
  • Working on the texture layer, try different blend modes to see how the photo changes.
  • Experiment with reducing opacity of the texture layer.
  • Try adding more texture overlays with different blend modes.
  • In the layers panel, try rearranging the order of the textures to see how the photo changes.
  • Try changing a texture layer’s position over the photo. For example, flip horizontally or vertically.
  • Add a layer mask to hide or reveal parts of a texture. You might want to brush away a heavy texture over a face or focal point. As you work on the mask, you can use the brush at 100% opacity or reduce the opacity, allowing some texture to remain.
  • If desired, add color balance or hue/saturation adjustment layers at the top of the layer stack to tweak colors. Add a levels adjustment layer to improve tonality. You can also brush on the adjustment layer masks to modify. And you can change the blend mode or opacity of the adjustment layers.
  • The final result can make an ordinary photo look more artistic. Some textures to try: vintage colors, heavy or lightly distressed, dark and mysterious, sunwashed, painted, crackle, bokeh, cloth, wood, rust, stone, text, creased and folded paper.

Free photo textures:

Shadowhouse Creations

Lost and Taken

Photo Textures on flickr

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A Photo Series

Georgia Pines

Sometimes it is fun to alter your perspective. Looking left, right, up, or down can give you a new appreciation for the beauty in your immediate surroundings. So I’m beginning a Photo Series featuring ordinary scenes from my everyday life. I want to document this time in my life and add a little mystery to the ordinary.

The first subject is a grouping of pines on a small hill near my home. Usually I ignore them. But yesterday I saw the contrast between the size of the young and old pines, and the bit of autumn color breaking up the expanse of green. The sky was vivid blue. Working in Photoshop, I saw the photo looked good. But I wanted to add more character.

  • First, I ran Pioneer Woman’s ‘Lovely and Ethereal’ action, then cropped to square.
  • Next, I layered three textures from Shadowhouse Creations and set each to a different blend mode; soft light, multiply, and color dodge.
  • Finally, I adjusted one of the texture layers to 50% opacity.

There is no specific formula for working with textures. It is all about layering, blending, and sometimes masking until you find a look that is pleasing.