Friday, June 20, 2008

The Birds and the Bees (or the Quest for the Elusive Hummingbird)

I have a serious case of camera envy. This past Christmas my children bought me a new Sony Cybershot camera to replace my five-year-old 2.2 pixel digital camera. My new camera had 7.2 pixels and the 3x optical zoom; I was thrilled! That is, until I started blogging. My new camera takes great pictures of the grandkids and decent photos of flowers (once I figured out what macromode was), but trying to take a photo of anything that moves or flies is nearly impossible. I'm too cheap to buy a new camera, and I'm not about to tell my family, "Hey thanks for the gift, but what I really need is a $500 camera with at least an 18x digital zoom."

Instead I'm trying to make the best of what I do have. I have a friendly Mr. Robin Redbreast who often stops by to visit and share a little conversation. He likes his space, though, so this is the best picture I could get of him, and that is with a lot of cropping. As you can see, once you start drastically cropping, the picture gets blurry.

The goldfinches who frequent my feeder are also camera-shy. One day, though, four of them were so busy fighting over who got which perch that I managed to sneak up on them. Camouflaging myself in the tree branches and standing very still, I waited for their return and was able to take several pictures before this one detected me.

I realize that having a good camera is essential to taking sharp photos of wildlife, but skill plays just as large a part in good photography. I have been trying for the last month to take a photo of the hummingbirds once they arrived in the area. Don't even bother enlarging the next photo, because there is no hummingbird there--he flew away before I even had the camera focused.

I thought I was being smart this year in hanging a second feeder on my porch, just a few feet away from the swing where I often sit. Yes, they did find the feeder, and I could have gotten some great photos---if I'd had my camera with me. I've learned from my mistakes and now take the camera with me nearly every time I go outside. But for some reason the hummingbirds have spurned this feeder lately. Could this be the reason?
I know this is blurry (there's my skill problem), but maybe you can see the ants covering the feeding hole. We seem to have a plethora of ants this year, though so far they've stayed outside. One group seems to love climbing into this feeder to reach the sweet nectar even though it means a certain death by drowning. After I shot this photo, I emptied and cleaned out the feeder and refilled it with fresh nectar, but the ants were back within a day's time, a host of them floating at the top of the juice. Do you think the hummingbirds are turned off by this?
Or could this be the problem?
I doubt the hummingbirds would be intimidated by Tarzan, the guard cat. And frankly, if they came to visit, I think Tarzan would be so entranced by them he wouldn't even move. Whatever the reason, I'm getting frustrated by my lack of success.

As I said, though, skill is such an important part of photography, and I am lacking in that area, too. Back in the days before digital cameras, I was known for taking advantage of wonderful photo opportunities, only to discover I didn't have film in the camera. And my daughter will never let me forget the year I took a whole roll of film of her and her date on Homecoming, but all the pictures were double-exposed! I never did figure that one out.
Digital cameras have made photography so much easier for the average person, yet I still make some mistakes. At my daughter-in-law's graduation ceremony last month I was given the task of taking pictures of her with her family. Somehow in the process of juggling three different cameras I turned the mode dial on mine to video. (The price of vanity--I refuse to wear my reading glasses unless absolutely necessary.) So instead of a nice group shot of her family, we have a short video of them getting in position, standing still for a second, and then several seconds of pavement and (ugh) my stomach while I took shots with the other cameras.

By far the most infamous example of my ineptitude with cameras, though, was during my trip to Europe 5 years ago. I was one of the chaperones for a group of high school juniors and seniors on one of those 10-day whirlwind trips of three major European cities. Our first night in London we set off on a walking tour to see the sights, led by our Italian guide. I looked like the typical American tourist with a backpack on my back and a large camera bag slung across my chest holding my first digital camera and a video camera borrowed from my daughter. The digital camera worked fine, but I'd never used a video camera before. I remember taking video in the heart of London as we walked through Picadilly Circus. I'd heard of Picadilly, of course, but never quite knew what it was--I was expecting an actual circus. (Yes, my UK friends, you may laugh at this.) I remember taking video to show everyone at home just what this famous landmark looked like.

After our stop there, we set off on a long walk to Trafalgar Square, so I eventually put the camera back in its bag. By the time we finally reached Trafalgar Square, I was in an excited state of bliss--I really was in London, the home of Big Ben, the Globe, and Westminster Abbey! I took out the video camera again to be able to capture the whole scene, but to my disappointment, the batteries were dead! My daughter had told me I could take only so many minutes of video before recharging the batteries, but this was ridiculous. It wasn't until later that night as I reviewed the video I'd taken that I found out the reason--I had never turned the camera off! So instead of a 20 minute video showcasing the grand sights of the heart of London, I had five minutes of Picadilly Circus, then 20 minutes of the derrieres of the people in front of me, my feet walking on the streets of London, and finally total darkness with an audio of my conversation with the students walking with me. (I had put the camera back in the bag, remember.) I can laugh about the incident now, but I sure do wish I had that video--who knows when I might get back to London?

I have learned from all my past mistakes, and I am working on learning the finer points of photography. Why, I even read the camera manual! But even with some skill, a photographer has to practice to understand the effects of light and shadow or using the proper settings. One morning last week I saw the first dragonfly of the summer. He was a very accommodating fellow, landing on this iron lantern holder and posing for me for several minutes. I must have taken 7 or 8 pictures of him, yet this was the best I could do. As I stuck my camera just inches away from him, I could imagine him saying, "Hey, lady, how long is this photo session going to last? I've got breakfast to catch!"

This morning, though, I was a little luckier. This dragonfly wasn't quite so patient with me, but he did land on different flowers for a couple seconds at a time, so I was able to get a better picture.
Look at those gossamer wings! And here's another one for you, Beckie.

After reading many of your blogs, I know that those of you with great photos also show a lot of patience. But sometimes you just get lucky. While waiting for the elusive hummingbirds to appear one day, a bee landed nearly at my feet, enjoying the sweet blossoms of a verbena.

Traipsing around my garden trying to get some good shots for this past Garden Bloom Day, I noticed this ladybug crawling inside the Stella d'Oro daylily. Once again, the photo is rather blurry, but I was happy to see her. (You may have to enlarge this photo to see her.)

That same day, as I looked more closely at the garden, I found this spider enjoying the watering I had just given the petunias.

And resting on the leaves of a coneflower was this little guy. Can anyone identify this insect? To me, he looked like a baby praying mantis, but I'm no entomologist. Please just don't tell me he's a purple-coneflower-eating parasite!

Sometimes a good photo is simply a case of pure dumb luck. Taking pictures of my gaillardia for my Bloom Day post, I didn't even see this bee until I downloaded my photos and began editing them.

Obviously, I have a long way to go before I can submit a photo to Audubon or Insect World, but I'm going to keep practicing on the birds and the bees, though I think I'll stick to showing you mostly flowers from now on. I do hope to get a photo of a butterfly sometime; once my coneflowers are in bloom, I usually have dozens of them flying about. And I am not going to give up in my quest for my very own hummingbird photo, even if I have to camp out under the feeder all day. In the meantime, I am going to continue to enjoy the photos of all you who do show such marvelous photos of wildlife. In particular, I want to note the work of three master photographers: Cheryl, the "Queen Bee" at My Wild Life Sanctuary; Mary, Head Chef to the birds at Mary's View; and Sherry, the "Butterfly Queen" at Q's Corner. Ladies, you are a true inspiration to me!


  1. I am like you Rose. I struggle with the camera. I do get lucky from time to time but it can sure be frustrating. Just keep on taking pictures. Luckily with digital pictures you can take picture then look at them, toss them and not feel guilty becasue you are throwing away what amounts to $$. Just think of all of those photographers before us that had to pay for film, then pay again to have them developed. We can just keep on snapping until we get it right.

  2. You're absolutely right, Lisa. That's one of the great things about digital cameras. I used to take in my film to be processed, and sometimes half of the pictures were lousy, but I had to pay for them anyway.

  3. I have camera envy too, Rose! I never really took pictures until abut two years ago when I bought my little Kodak Easy Share with 5 megapixels and no zoom at all. I have loved it, but I'm so bad at it! My husband is a graphic designer and photography nut, so I've always just left it all to him. But, like you, I'm determined to get better, and maybe get a better camera.

  4. Rose, those dragonflies were wonderful. Thank you! I haven't gotten even a smell of a dragonfly yet. I remember your 'London' video, we all had a chuckle over that. But as Lisa says. practice is so important. Personally, I think you are doing great.
    Your bugs are very interesting-just look at what we have learned from blogging. A year ago, we would have brushed them away to get a picture of a flower. Now we know better.
    Make sure you've got extra batteries and your memory card for your camera for tomorrow!

  5. You've worked out macro?! I thought all i had to do was turn it on but my photos are worse than useless. I am getting really irritaed cos I can't take good flower shots even, let alone insects! You have some lovely shots there. I especially like the second dragonfly.

    And like you I refuse to wear my glasses if I don't have to so I don't find out things aren't in focus - or the wrong thing is in focus - until I upload the photo. Thank goodness for the Delete button!

  6. Rose your photos are great, especially the dragon fly and the bee on your galardia, he is so perfectly centred. I know what you mean about the frustration though, Maggie May has done a similar post!
    I was visualising you hiding behind a tree awaiting greenfinches!
    I do hope to see humming birds here one day.

    Thanks for remembering my birthday

    Suburbia x

  7. Loved this post, Brenda :) I think you are doing just fine ... keep your camera near and batteries charged! I have yet to capture a hummingbird!

  8. Sorry Rose ... my husband was talking to me and I can't multi-tast! Forgive me !

  9. Oh you make me laugh! I have done exactly the same things as you: took Christmas pics with no film in the camera, shot a short video of a baby shower instead of pics, taken somebody's birthday with run down batteries - you name it!
    Ah, but I guess it takes practice. Mine are blurry too.

    Don't know if it's the ants - I thought hummers like insects,but maybe ants are too big for them.
    I'd just persist. One day a hummer will probably just zoom up to the feeder and the "curse" will be broken!

  10. Joyce, I was completely satisfied with my camera until I started blogging. Now I have camera envy, plant envy, and garden envy. Not good:)

    Beckie, When I saw the second dragonfly I just had to try taking his picture. I knew you would like those!

    Liz, I saved up my money as a teenager so I could get contact lenses. I'll be darned if I go back to wearing glasses full-time again!

    Suburbia, It's a good thing I don't have neighbors too close by. They would think I was really losing it, hiding in trees and running after dragonflies:)
    Thanks for the tip on Maggie May's posts; I read them and chuckled knowingly. Hope you had a great day!

    Joey, Thanks for the encouragement. Have you ever called someone and then forgotten who you called? I have, so I understand:)

    Wendy, At least the digitals don't have lens caps; I used to leave those on, too, sometimes. I thought the hummers would like ants, too. They've probably warned each other about the crazy lady with the camera.

  11. Thank you Rose for coming to my blog. I have found yours really lovely and you are doing really well with the photos!
    I will call again & please do revisit!

  12. My new camera is UNMANAGEABLE! Seriously, I was so used to the old one that my new one, although much better, is a bit confusing. God help me if I get a new video camera. At least we don't have to pay for processing.

  13. I'll share a funny story of my Grandma and her mishap with a camera-

    About 25 years ago my Dad and I flew down to Florida to visit Grandma & Grandpa. They were really big into golfing after they moved there. Grandma had a Kodak Disc camera that she used and every time one of the grandchildren went golfing with her she wanted to take a few action shots of the grandchild teeing off. So, the day I went she stood diagonally off to the side in front of me. If you look carefully in the pictures of me swinging the club, I sliced the ball as I hit it and it is flying toward Grandma! It actually hit her in the stomach! Luckily Grandma was not a skinny woman so she said it didn't hurt.

    I've only been Put-Put golfing since!

  14. It seems to me you've mastered floral & dragonfly photos. I know what you mean about the ants this year. They've been terrible, both red & carpenter ants, in the house. I think I saw the same bug this morning. Did it have striped antennae?

  15. Rose - I have enjoyed reading all about your photography, I think in years to come you will treasure the little video you took at your daughter-in-laws graduation. You have got some really good photos already so stick with it you will succeed.

  16. Rose, I'm glad that I'm not the only one with something to learn about photography. But hey, I can only go up on the scale of ineptitude. You have way more skill than I do. I think you are right about the baby praying mantis. He is adorable. I hope he gets to be a giant by the end of summer. Have fun "practicing on the birds and bees." ;>)

  17. Rose, I've enjoyed this post! You really have some funny camera tales! I have enjoyed learning about photography these last few years. Digital is wonderful! It is so nice to be able to take picture after picture and then delete those that aren't good. You're right about most of it being luck. Patiently waiting and being in the right place at the right time.

    Aren't those baby mantises cute?

  18. Maggie May, Thanks for stopping by. I forgot to tell you I enjoyed your photo of your laundry:)

    Jamjar, I'm sure I couldn't handle anything too complicated either. I just want more "zoom!" Thanks for visiting.

    Laura, LOL, that's a great story! But I'm glad your grandma was ok.

    MMD, Thanks for the compliments--I'm trying. As for the striped antennae, to be honest I didn't notice.

    Starnitesky, Thanks. I've been so impressed by all the photos I've seen on some blogs. I know that many of you have been working at this much longer than I have, and I am realizing there really is an art to taking great photos.

    Walk2write, You're the first one to comment on the praying mantis. He sure looked like a little one to me. I usually see several around during the summer, so I hope he sticks around.

  19. Robin, Glad you enjoyed it. I can only hope to take pictures half as good as yours some day! You think it's a baby mantis, too?

  20. Hi Rose......That last photograph is absolutely wonderful and brought a tear to my eye.
    We all look at other peoples blogs and compare. We should not, we all have gifts and should be grateful for those we have. You have a wonderful way with words...
    and your use of the english language is a credit to you.
    Photograpy will come.....for me just to see what is going on in other peoples gardens is a dream.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder....with plants and wildlife I see the beauty whether the image is perfect or blurred.

    It is a lovely post and your trip to London did make me smile. I felt like going on the train and doind a re-take for

  21. Am I with you! There is a lot of luck and shooting photos over and over to getting a good one! Sometimes the macro works and sometimes it doesn't. When I first starting photographing I had an Olympus OM1 35 mm SLR...I ran around taking photos of the most beautiful peonies. Only when I got them back from very expensive processing and eagerly opened up the envelope did I discover I was shooting with Black and White film!

    I do love the dragonfly and the bee on the very center of your flower is perfect!


  22. Cheryl, Thank you for your kind comments. And thanks to you I am looking more closely at the bees and our wildlife friends.
    If you take a trip into London, take a few pictures for me:)

    Gail, Digital cameras are great and do save us a lot of money, don't they? That bee on the flower was a total surprise to me!

  23. Dear Rose,
    I had an idea one day in 2000, that I wanted to learn to be a photographer. I wrote a list of everything I wanted a camera to do for me. I waited until 2006, when my camera was made and was affordable! Patience worked for me!
    You will get your hummingbird picture and your butterflies. It take waiting on the bugs and the birds. It also takes learning about light and aperture and lens speed. Knowing everything your camera can do will help. I take lots and lots of pictures every day.
    I love the picture of the baby praying mantis. I think they are wonderful bugs.
    As Pema Chodron says, "Start where you are." There is room to grow and learn. I adore the bugs...
    May your bugs and blooms bring blessings and may your camera continue to reveal all the tiny wonders of the world.
    On butterfly wings,

  24. Hi Rose, I love this topic.

    We all have bloopers like yours of the hummingbird that just left. I have dozens with blurry bird tails as the subject exits stage right;) Ain't digital photography great? No cost for film and you can shoot hundreds of photos with no developing fees.

    My camera just died. You're gonna hear lots of whining from me. I just got used to one and it dies. They should last more than 3 years considering they are not cheap.

    Did you know you can buy ant motes for that nectar feeder? Google it. Maybe your local WBU has them.

    Tarzan, what a great name. He doesn't look like Tarzan but inside him must live the heart of the jungle;) My Mom named her cat Zorro.

  25. I can't tell you how many times I was about to take a great wildlife shot, only to find that my camera was on the wrong setting! Argh!

    We wound up with two cameras (long story). One has 12x zoom and is wonderful for wildlife shots but so-so for close ups. The other takes amazing close-ups. So, I'm often out with two cameras in tow (and must look obsessed to my neighbors!).

    I love that I can take as many photos as I want and not pay for film. I've been know to take 50 or 60 photos and in the end have one or two that I really love.


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