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,


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kayak Camera Support

This week I modified my Kayak Camera support. I added a shelf to make it more stable and I lowered the support so that it is now right at eye level.
The support was built using a piece of 6 inch by 1/4 inch thick aluminum stock. I took the stock to a local metal fabricator and I had them bend it on their press. I then attached two four foot pieces of aluminum angle bracket as feet to support the stock piece by drilling and bolting the pieces together. I added the wood shelf to make it more rigid and add a little storage space for filters and lens cleaner etc. The support slides easily back and forth in front of me so I can push it forward when I want to paddle. It works great.

God's light and love,


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Changeable Perch Feeder

Recently I was creating some images of chickadees using small branches with bright red berries on them next to the feeder. I was having a problem with the angle of the branch and the fact that the birds were landing too close to the platform feeder I was using. There has got to be a better feeder I thought to myself. First I tried a tube feeder and that solved the distance the birds were landing away from the feeder. They moved out just far enough onto the branch to make it workable. There was still the problem of changing the angle of the branch. While traveling through the Dollar Tree Store (Hear that Dollar Tree Execs?) I stumbled upon some floral foam. With that stuff you can stick a stem into it and it will hold at any angle. Well it would be too hard to put it into a tube feeder I thought. What else could I put it into that would hold the foam block? When I got home I discovered two cookie tins that I had purchased from the Dollar Tree around Christmas time. Thank you Lord. One of those worked great. I drilled a couple of holes into the tin. Then I added the foam block with some black sunflower seed. I screwed it to a scrap of lumber and added the berry branch to it. It works perfectly with perching birds. I'm really excited about using it this spring for a wider variety of birds. I've got some ideas of modifying it further for a bluebird feeder.

What you will need.
cookie tin
floral foam block
two wood screws
1-1/2" spade bit
power drill
white or black spray paint optional

Step 1 Drill two holes into the lid of the tin. One hole towards the bottom and one roughly in the center. Putting it upside down on some scrap wood helps. Do this slowly to avoid crumpling the metal.

Step 2 Use the wood screws to fasten the bottom of the tin to a piece of scrap of wood to hold the feeder up.

Step 3 Spray paint it. I spray painted mine white as one of my earlier attempts with an unpainted one reflected a color cast onto the bird.

Step 4 Place the foam block into the bottom of the feeder. Line it up so the block will be behind the bottom hole. Fill with birdseed.

Step 5 Attach your feeder somewhere with bailing wire or wood screws. Stick a good looking perch into the foam and you are in business.

Good luck and God bless,


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Predator Call for Pennies

I have known for some time that many photographers and hunters use predator calls to call in predators such as foxes, coyotes etc. I also know that some of them will use a squeaker from children's stuffed animals. Well today my dog Badger tore apart yet another dog toy from "Dollar Tree". Inside was a round plastic squeaker. He also tore that apart. The squeaker part was located in a tube that was about a half an inch long. On impulse I picked it up and blew through it. A squeal with a perfect imitation of a cottontail being killed emerged. As you can imagine an idea for a predator call immediately popped into my head.

I cut a short length of 3/4 inch pvc (1/2 inch would also do) about four inches long. I drilled a hole of about the same diameter as the tube from the squeaker about one inch from the end of the pvc. I took the squeaker tube pushed it into the hole and glued it into place with super glue. I'm sure some other glues might work as well.The final step was to spray paint it black. Make sure you stick some tape over the squeaker to keep it from being filled with paint.

Blowing the call is quite simple. You just place the flat of your hand over the end closest to the squeaker. Put your mouth on the other end and blow. You can flutter the flat of your hand against the call to vary the sounds coming from the call. It sounds great.

God's light and love and blessings to all,