Thursday, October 24, 2013

Knothole Feeder Version II

In a previous blog entry I showed the steps involved in making a knothole feeder with a piece of bark. This is a slightly different version using a piece of solid firewood. Knothole feeders are extremely useful for photographing species of birds and mammals that are cavity nesters and users. If it is properly made these species have no fear of going inside a feeder of this type and using it. (Please click to enlarge images) Step one the most difficult part is finding a useful starter piece of wood that has a partial hole or cavity where a branch used to be on the tree. Step two is to use a hole saw to drill a hole into the backside of the wood into the cavity so you can enlarge it. You may have to use a chisel or a sawzall to remove excess material. I used both tools to remove a few small bits. Step three is to use a pair of tin snips to cut vertical strips all away around the top of a tin can. After you have cut the vertical strips use a pair of pliers to fold the strips down ninety degrees to make tabs for securing the can to the wood. Step four is to center the can over the hole on the back of the wood. Use some short wood screws to drill through the metal tabs to secure the can to the back of the wood. Step five is to screw a piece of one by three to the feeder to attach it someplace so you can use it for photography. Here is a sample image from this morning of a Red Breasted Nuthatch that came to get some black sunflower seed that I poured into it. This afternoon I photographed a little bit more with the knothole feeder. Here is a Chestnut Backed Chickadee coming in for some seed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Peter Pan Feeder

If you are new to bird photography you have probably wondered how some photographers get those upside down images of nuthatches and chickadees.One easy solution is to use a feeder that forces the birds to go upside down to get the seed. The feeder is hidden from view on the backside of a branch or board where you can't see it. The birds when they go to get some seed stop upside down on the side that you can see for a brief second or so before or after they grab a seed.Here are the step by step instructions on how to make one of those feeders. I call mine the "Peter Pan Feeder" because it is fashioned using a plastic peanut butter jar. Supplies you will need * Clean, clear empty small plastic jar and lid. * Hand Drill * 1/4 inch drill bit * No. 2 Screw driver * 2 1/2" wood screws * A couple of cups of black sunflower seed Step 1 Drill a 1/4 inch hole into the bottom edge of the plastic jar. Get it as close to the edge as you can. Step 2 Using the two wood screws fasten the jar to the side of a nice looking piece of wood or a branch. Make sure that you feeder hole is just slightly above the bottom edge of the wood or branch so it can't be seen. Step 3 Fill the jar with black sunflower seed and put the lid on. Step 4 Set this up in a good place near your bird feeders and wait for it to start being used. Now photograph some birds with it! Please note this feeder does not work well around squirrels as given time they will chew holes into it.Perhaps make one made of metal!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DIY Smoke Photography

You have probably seen some of those cool images of swirling smoke. If you have a DSLR camera and an external flash, flash cord and some black foamcore you would be surprised how simply it can be done. A basic set up consists of

∆ Flash gun
∆ flash cord
∆ DSLR camera
∆ A black piece of foam core or black tag board roughly 18' x 24" in size
∆ A smaller piece of foamcore or tagboard roughly 8"X10" in size
∆ Incense Stick and holder(or something nonflammable to keep the house from burning down)
∆ A small to medium desk lamp

Work on a kitchen table or a large flat surface in dim light. It doesn't have to be pitch dark.
1. Set the incense stick and holder about a foot from the edge of the table
2. Prop up the large piece of foamcore two feet behind the incense stick and holder
3. One foot to the left of the incense stick set up the desk lamp and aim it at the top of the incense stick.
4. One foot to the right and at a height of about four inches above the incense stick prop up the flash on some books blocks or whatever you have to get it to that height.
5. Light the incense stick and turn on the flash and the desk lamp.
6. Prop up the smaller foamcore piece behind the flash to block light from the background.
7. Hand hold your camera and focus on the tip of the incense stick to help get prefocus.
8. Then use the desk lamp to help you focus on the smoke.
9. Check your histogram after each of your first images to check focus and exposure.

To create a white back ground I do that in post processing in Photoshop.

1. Open up the image in Photoshop. Adjustment- levels. Slide the levels slider slightly to the right to make sure the blacks are solid black.
2.Then create a hue/saturation layer and click the colorize box.
3.Use the hue slider to choose a color for the smoke
4.Bump up the saturation using the slider to about 55.(If you like it that intense)
5.Drop down and click the mask layer and change the opacity to 45 or 50%
6. Now click on the background layer.
7. Go up to Adjustments-invert.
That is all there is to it.
Go out and make some smoke1!

God bless,


Monday, November 7, 2011

DIY Iconic Squirrel Portrait

If you already have squirrels raiding your bird feeders your well on you're way to easily creating an iconic squirrel portrait. The three basic ingredients needed are. A feeder, a branch, some wood screws and a battery powered screw driver or drill. Most important some sort of blind or hide. Photographing from behind a dark blanket or sheet from a window in your house will work just as well if you don't have a photoblind or other makeshift hide.

The first step is to find a suitable section of branch to photograph your squirrel on. I found a piece of branch that had been broken off by the wind outside of my church one morning. Look for an interesting piece that is one to three feet long with an interesting grain or bark pattern or moss on it. It should be one and a half to three inches in diameter. This will be big enough to hide your makeshift feeders on the back side of it. If you live in the city check with the surrounding neighbors or tree trimmers working in your area for possible pieces of branches.

The second step is to screw the branch onto a piece of scrap wood. Most any piece will do just as it is big enough to support your piece of branch.

The third step is to screw some makeshift feeders onto the back side of the branch. This may take a few tries to figure out how to keep them out of sight. You can use bottle caps or in my case I used a few salsa containers from my lunch at a mexican restaurant one day. Just use anything small that can be attached to the backside of the branch out of sight.

The fourth thing to do is to attach the whole set up to your bird feeder. I have a platform feeder so I just grabbed a few more wood screws and attached it to the side of my feeder. Other possibilities are to clamp it with a "C" clamp. Tie it on with rope or wire. Be creative and figure out a way to attach it to your bird feeder.

The last and final step is to put peanuts or black sunflower seeds into the little feeders and wait. I place my feeder about six to eight feet away from my photo blind with dark trees as a background. I like a dark background so that my subject stands out. What kind of background do you have? A fence or a hedge can work well. Some background that is darker than your subject and is far enough away to be out of focus is a big help.

Now begins the waiting game. Prefocus your camera on the branch and wait. Check to make sure that no parts of the feeders are showing. Maybe photograph the birds that are feeding on your new feeder as well. Don't make a lot of movement or noise and your patience will be rewarded.

Good luck and God bless,


Friday, November 4, 2011

Quick Down and Dirty Sweep For Auction Site Photos

A sweep is a seamless or creaseless backdrop. For product photography or auction site photography one can be cheaply and quickly made using supplies from the Dollar Tree. all that is needed is colored tagboard or wrapping or craft paper depending upon the size of the object you want to be photographed. For small items the tagboard will do for larger items and wrapping paper works great for bigger oness. If you need pure white use the backside of christmas wrapping paper.

The set up is easy. Put a chair onto a table facing outward. Tape or weight the wrapping paper to the opposite end of the table from the chair. Very loosely unroll the roll of paper up onto the top of the chair. Leave a lot of slack in it so it creates a big bow for the sweep. Put a small piece of tape onto the roll to keep it from unraveling any further and tape it to the top of the chair. You can now photograph your item on the table. i prefer using a room with soft natural light. No harsh direct sunlight. A Cloudy or foggy day works really well. A reflector made out of cardboard and aluminum foil can be used to bounce light into shadowed areas.
For smaller obects I just tape the tagboard to the end of the table and lean it up against the chair until I get a nice sixty to ninety degree bend in it and then I tape it to the chair.

Here are some sample images created using brown wrapping paper.

good luck and God bless,


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Typical Hummingbird Set Up

Hummingbird Photography

Photographing perched hummingbirds is one thing but photographing them flying is another story altogether. So I need a really, really fast shutter camera or shutter speed for photographing hummingbirds in flight. Right? No. Actually what you need is a really, really fast flash or better yet several flashes.

The best flashes for hummingbird photography are hotshoe flashes that have a manual setting that allows the power of the flash to be reduced to 1/16th power or less. Hotshoe flashes have the unique ability to shorten their flash duration as the power is lowered down. Most hotshoe flashes on 1/16th power have a flash duration of 1/5,000 of a second or faster. Studio flashes won’t work as well for hummingbirds in flight because they don’t work this way and the flash duration is too long to be effectively used for hummingbirds.

I use a Canon EOS camera so I stayed with that line when I purchased my flashes from KEH Camera. I purchased some Canon 540 EZ flashes. These flashes can be manually dialed down to 1/128th of a second though I set mine at 1/16th power.. There is a trade off however. In reducing the power of the flash you also reduce its effective range. At such a low power the flashes need to be placed under two feet or less from the hummingbird.

I use six flashes that are all placed less than two feet from the feeder spout. Two at 45 degree angles on the background. One flash above the subject and one below. The other two flashes are at 45 degree angles above and to the sides of the subject. They are aimed at a point about seven inches away from the feeder to catch the hummingbird when it backs up to take a break from feeding. A typical set up uses flowers placed close to or in front of the hummingbirds feeder spout. Often times I will also include flowers just behind the feeder as well.

I do my hummingbird photography in the shade. My yard has a lot of sun so I use an instant shade pop up that is 8 feet square. That way all of light is coming from my flashes and I’m not hindered much by ambient light. It’s also a pleasant place to photograph on a hot sunny day.

I mount all the flashes on light stands and old tripods and I trigger them using a wireless flash triggering system. There are a wide variety of triggering systems out there. I use Ishoot Snipers and they work really well.I purchased them from for a very reasonable cost.

Backgrounds of a wide variety and colors can be used. I place mine about four feet behind the feeder. Some photographers use a blow up of out of focus flowers as a backdrop. What ever you use make sure it is large enough to cover your area behind the feeder. My personal preference is an olive green backdrop made of painted Masonite hardboard.

Exposure is dependent upon the flashes and your cameras sync speed. Typically I use a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second at Fstops ranging from of F13 to F18. I prefer stopping down to keep the hummingbird in focus.

For focusing I manually prefocus on the tip of the hummingbird feeder with my camera on a tripod. Then I turn the camera so that it is pointed to an area with the feeder spout just out of the frame. The camera position is about six feet away from the feeder.

For lenses I use one of two telephotos. I use a Canon 100 to 300 IS or a Canon 100-400 IS. When using the 100-400 I use Kenko extension tubes so I can have a closer focusing distance.

To do hummingbird photography having a hummingbird feeder is critical. I put mine up in early spring filled with a mixture of plain white sugar mixed at a ratio of one part sugar to four parts tap water. I have about eight hummingbird feeders in my backyard. (You don’t need eight. One will do) When I photograph hummingbirds I take all of the down except for three of them under my shaded pop up. I use a single spout feeder to photograph. A multi spout feeder can be used. Just block off all the feeder spouts except one with tape.

With hummingbirds it is a bit of a waiting game. If you don’t use a blind you must sit as motionless as possible with your fingers on the shutter release. Wait for the hummingbird to begin feeding a few times before you start blasting away with the flashes. Start off slow and eventually they will get used to the flash. Usually the best time to click the shutter is when they back off from the feeder to rest a bit. Most hummingbirds do this. They will move forward and feed and then back off four to eight inches or so and hover there for several seconds before moving forward to feed again.
So put some gear together and go out and have some fun.
Happy Humming and God bless,

Monday, June 6, 2011

DIY Beanbag and Help a Hungry Person

Sometimes when you go on a trip you just don't want to lug along a tripod or there are weight limits on luggage. Perhaps you are going on safari and no tripods are allowed to be used on the Land Rovers. A great alternative even for use on your own vehicle is a bean bag. You can purchase one and they typically sell for twenty to forty US dollars. A cheap and easy route is to go to Dollar Tree and buy some mesh laundry bags. They are 12inches by 15 inches in size with a zipper. They come three to a package for just a buck plus tax depending upon where you live.. They weigh hardly anything and won't take up much space in your suitcase or travel bag. When you arrive at your destination you can stop at a local market and buy four pounds of local beans or nuts to fill your laundry bag /bean bag. At the end of the trip have you or your guide donate your bag with the beans or nuts to a local food bank or needy person.

God's love and blessings to all,