Summer’s Little Secret

By Amy Novotny

Arizona’s late summer months are often known for their hot humid weather and monsoon storms, but they also represent the season of hummingbird migration to the high country. Areas including Sedona, Madera Canyon in the south, and the White Mountains out east become popular corridors for these little birds migrating south for the winter, much to the delight of both photographers and the general viewing public. Both Madera Canyon and the White Mountains have visitor centers–Friends of Madera Canyon Visitor Information Center and Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area–set up with hummingbird feeders to encourage flocks of these little birds to visit and feed. This also allows the birds to become used to human observers.

Image: Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area Visitor Center.

For photographers, these are great locations for hummingbird photography, as chances of catching a bird in flight increases significantly. Each region caters to slightly different populations of hummers. During this season, 6-7 species can be spotted in Sedona.  The White Mountains are known for rufous, black-chinned, broad-bill and calliope while Madera Canyon hosts up to 15 different species including those found at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  For catching the hummers with the blur in the wings to portray the speed of their wings, a handheld camera setup can work in good light.

Image: Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area Visitor Center hummingbird feeder

However, to stop the action and freeze the wings in mid flight, such as the image below, a more elaborate setup is needed with flash units at various angles to provide enough light to allow for a correct exposure at a high shutter speed.

Image: Rufous hummingbird at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

Multiple flashes are also important for minimizing shadows that appear with a one-directional light source. Additional props used to capture aesthetically-pleasing images include native local flowers such as thistle or salvia and a soothing background. The background can be a blown-up image of a flower, the sky, greenery or even a poster board spray-painted with colors found in nature. This type of background keeps the focus on the bird by minimizing background details or distracting branches. It also helps to keep the light even across the image.

Image: Hummingbird photography set up at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

After setting up the props and a flower with some dribbles of sugar water, photographers can focus on the flower and then sit back and watch the show before them. Soon observers will learn to recognize the behaviors of the hummers as they defend, attack other hummers and feed off the flowers blooming in these regions.

Image: Rufous hummingbirds feeding and demonstrating defensive behaviors at a thistle flower at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

Image: Rufous hummingbird attacking another hummer feeding at a thistle flower at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

The next several weeks are a great time to visit these little creatures while enjoying cooler weather.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz

Instagram: @anovotn

Images taken while assisting as a Volunteer Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops’ High-Country Hummingbirds workshop taught by instructor photographer Bruce Taubert in August 2016.  Although the workshop is not being held this year, the opportunity to photograph these little birds still exists.



White Mountains:

Madera Canyon:

Capture Your Moment: Hummingbird Photography

Bruce Taubert will be presenting two learning sessions at Arizona Highways Photo Workshops’ 30th Anniversary Symposium.  Here’s more about his “Hummingbird Photography” session.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird male. Payson, AZ

How do you take a stop action photograph of a 2 inch long, fast flying hummingbird whose wings beat in excess of 60 times each second?  After you figure that out make sure that the background has a pleasing out of focus look and get the hummingbird to feed on a colorful flower.  Well, you cannot just sit next to a beautiful flower in hummingbird habitat and wait for the perfect moment; you need to set up an “outdoor hummingbird photo laboratory”.

The outdoor lab consists of three to five flashes set at a reduced power, an artificial backdrop, a few light stands, one hummingbird feeder, and normal camera gear.  The feeder attracts the hummingbird so that the photographer knows exactly where it is going to eventually fly.  Flashes set with reduced power go off at a faster rate (at 1/16 power the flash duration will be approximately 1/20,000 sec.) and stop the blur of the birds wings.  The artificial backdrop is set about 5 feet in back of the feeder so that the background does not turn our black.  After the hummingbird is accustomed having its portrait taken replace the feeder with a nice flower and when it feeds on the flower take a photo.  Keep the flower “salted” with sugar water to entice a returned visit.

The only issue with taking stop action, high-speed hummingbird images is getting over the very short learning curve.  In other words, just get out there and do it!  You will have the opportunity to at the “Hummingbird Photography” session!

Look for a future post about Bruce’s second learning session, “Macro Photography.”

Bruce Taubert is a photographer for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

For more information and to register for sessions like this visit the AHPW’s 30th Symposium website.