SPIRIT OF THE AIR METAL PRINT

SPIRIT OF THE AIR METAL PRINT

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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 these little flying jewels live.

I use a printed background of an out of focus scene - often vegetation - but 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 and complicated lighting techniques. Doing a good setup is in many ways more difficult than simply happening upon a shot out in the woods, 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 you still feel that the setup diminishes the value of this photo (in a democratic world, you have the right to be incorrect!), I hope you will appreciate my honesty in telling you about it and the hard work that went into producing the image :-)

By the way, this is a beautiful Violet-tailed Sylph (a spirit of the air in the mythology of the 15th-century Swiss mystic Paracelsus) visiting a native Canna flower.

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