white-whiskered Hermit at tropical blueberry flowers, Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
Purple-bibbed Whitetip at Heliconia flowers. Image taken remotely with a fisheye lens. Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
In an attempt to capture the essence of a beautiful tiny hummingbird flitting through the cloud forests of Costa Rica, I used a slow shutter speed and flash to photograph this male Magenta-throated Woodstar. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards, and their irridescent colors are due to refraction of light, not pigmentation.
Empress Brilliant at Heliconia flower taken remotely with a fisheye lens, Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
A booted racket-tail hummingbird visits an orchid flower on the outskirts of a cloud forest in Ecuador
Pinnacle of Evolution
A white-tipped sicklebill hummingbird pollinates a Heliconia flower in a lowland rainforest in Costa Rica. This species has evolved in concert with species of Heliconia that have extremely curved flowers in a classic example of co-evolution. The hummingbird can't live without these flowers, and the flowers would not be pollinated without the white-tipped sicklebill. I used 4 flashes and a lot of patience to photograph this hummingbird, which only visited for less than a minute over a 2 day span. The hummingbird approaches from behind and immediately perches on the flower to feed. I imagine that inserting the absurdly curved beak into an equally absurdly curved flower would be very difficult in mid-flight, hence the preference for perching while feeding. Note that the space between the red bracts is precisely the right distance to help support the bird as it feeds!
Any photographer in the New World tropics will eventually come around to hummingbird photography. I was lucky to take this shot right in my front yard as a rufous-tailed hummingbird visiting a flowering vine.
This is one of my favorite hummingbird photos that I have in my collection. It's taken using a technique called multiple-flash that is quite popular but difficult to do well. The hardest thing is to make the flash lighting look natural. Careful placement of my flashes gave a completely natural look to this picture of a Green-crowned Brilliant visiting a Costus flower in the Costa Rican highlands.
Two Green-crowned Brilliant hummingbird visit a tropical blueberry flower in the Costa Rican highlands. I really like the soft color palette and the interaction of the two birds in this photo.
I really liked the sunny feel of this photo of a Black-bellied Hummingbird visiting an orchid in the Costa Rican highlands.
When I was in grad school in the US, my program was run in conjunction with the Missouri Botanical Garden, where I also worked full-time. I used to love browsing the old books of botanical illustrations in the Garden's fantastic library. I always wanted a hummingbird image that combined this style with the bird illustrations of John James Audubon. This photo of a Coppery-headed Emerald visiting a native orchid in the Costa Rican highlands is the result of that little quest, and every time I view this picture it takes me back to those winter afternoons browsing through the library stack at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Long-billed hermits (Phaethornis longirostris) love these "Sexy Pink" Heliconia flowers in northern Costa Rica. I liked this photo because it shows how the birds have to contort themselves to get their nectar reward.
Canon 5DII, Canon 70-300 mm zoom, tripod, f/11, 1/200, ISO 250, 4 flashes
The Violet Sabrewing is one of Costa Rica's largest and most beautiful hummingbird species. I used a multiple flash technique to capture this image of a perfect male specimen visiting a Kohleria flower at the edge of a cloud forest near the Juan Castro Blanco National Park.
Visiting Ecuador for the first time, I knew I wanted to do something different with my hummingbird photography. One of the best ways to take high-quality pictures of hummingbirds is to use a technique called multiple-flash, which basically means constructing a little studio outside. This technique allows the photographer to capture amazingly sharp photographs, even in the dim, poor light of the forests where the amazing hummingbirds live.
I use a printed background of an out of focus scene (often vegetation), in this case a sunset. Then I place a flower near a hummingbird feeder and fill that flower with some of the same sugar water from the feeder to entice the birds to visit. I then underexpose the natural light completely and rely on a number of flashes, triggered remotely, to provide all of the light for the scene (just like a portrait studio or a fashion shoot except that I'm outside in a cloud forest!).
Why am I telling you this? For two reasons.
First, the alternative is to tell you that I just happened to capture this image with natural light as the sun set over the mountains in northern Ecuador, and that would be a lie! I think transparency is very important in nature photography.
Second, you may be thinking, "Well, that's cheating. Setting things up like this makes it easy. Anybody could do it." This couldn't be further from the truth. It's not cheating if you don't lie about it (and I just told you the truth above!). And it's not easy either. Choosing the right flower, the right background, and then making the light look natural is tough and requires knowledge of both the natural history of your subject. Doing a good setup is quite difficult, and simulating a sunset shot is doubly so. I used colored gels over my flashes and positioned the lights very carefully so that there is some logical direction to the light.
Even if still feel that the setup diminishes the value of this photo, I hope you will appreciate the effort behind my honesty in telling yo
green-crowned brilliants visiting a cloud forest passion flower
striped-throated hermit visits a rattlesnake flower
Violet sabrewing hummingbird visiting Razisea spicata flowers. The katydid and wasp were surprise onlookers.
green-crowned brilliant hummingbird visits a cloud forest bromeliad
a green-crowned brilliant visits a flower in the coffee family in a cloud forest in the Central Volcanic mountain range
Green hermit pausing while feeding from Heliconia in a Costa Rican cloud forest
purple-throated mountain gem at ornamental banana flower
A wire-crested thorntail hummingbird visits native Solanaceae flowers in the rainforest in Ecuador
A violet-tailed sylph visits a tropical blueberry flower in a cloud forest in the western Andes mountains of Ecuador