Accidents and Near Misses


Allen's Hummingbird Taking Off

The best wildlife photography often happens around the edges of situations, when things are not entirely going your way and conditions force you to do something unplanned.

I have been photographing Allen’s Hummingbirds bathing in a small stream on the Channel Islands (see post from a few days ago) but found that I had to work before sunrise when 1) they were most often bathing and 2) when there was NOT direct sun on them.  Surprisingly, direct sun makes the color of their gorget disappear, and makes the scene far too contrasty.

But at 5:30 am it is not exactly bright outside – so to get an exposure with my 200-400 lens (and a 1.4x teleconverter) I was forced to slow my shutter speed down to 1/100 of a second. This would work, I thought, when the birds stopped momentarily to bathe and drink, but would be hopeless if they moved. (I could have used flash, of course, but wanted to avoid the flat lighting – and I didn’t have the complex multi-flash gear that SERIOUS hummer photographers use… Hey, I’m here to shoot foxes!)

So instead, I shot away, knowing my success rate would be low. Imagine my surprise, then, when I got this capture of a male Allen’s taking off – pausing momentarily in flight to look at where those strange clicking sounds were coming from. The slow shutter speed turned his whirring wings into a graceful (and realistic) blur, and his hovering body is almost sharp. 

I say almost because it’s really not sharp enough – but in this near miss I see a picture I would very much like to get. Given opportunity (like this little bathing stream) and the willingness to shoot a few thousand frames, I could see this picture working – with a body held motionless and the wings ablur – a portrait of a flying jewel, the way we really see them.

My point is that I would never have taken, or even imagined, this picture if I hadn’t  been forced out of my comfort zone by the dim light. But the low light was what I had to work with, and the slow shutter speed gave me a glimpse of a picture I had never thought of. I don’t have it yet, but I now know what I want.

Nikon D3, with TC14x, 200-400mm lens , 1/100 sec. f5.6