Archive for February, 2013

To photograph, or not to photograph a hummingbird, that is the question.

The dilemmas of being a photographer.

The porch (click on all images for larger view)
A few years back I started spending my winters in Mexico.  I was tired of shoveling snow, having cold hands and cold feet but mostly I became obsessed with surfing.  My little house in the middle of the desert just north of Todos Santos is a little oasis of green.  The Ejido canal, a fresh water irrigation channel of crystal clear mountain water (from the Sierras Lagunas) runs right through my property.  In the desert, you add water to the soil and everything grows like magic.  And magic it is around my house, fruit trees, palms, flowers, a paradise for birds.
Curve Billed Thrasher
Gila Woodpecker (click on image)
I have sat on my porch under the shade of the coconut palm and watched countless numbers of birds fly by.  I am no bird watcher but I coundn’t help noticing the abundance of species.  Last year, mostly motivated by the task of promoting my house, which becomes a vacation rental when I am not there, I started photographing the birds to post on my Casa Las Olas facebook page.  It didn’t take long to realize that photographing birds is no easy task and there is a reason why there are photographers who specialize in that.  Believe it or not but birds fly!  And they fly fast and they really don’t like Italians chasing them around pointing a long object at them.  My long lens seemed very long until I tried this new task.  100-400 5.6 zoom is really no big gun when we are talking birds.


Cactus Wren (click on image)

My first approach was, see a bird, run to grab my camera, run at the bird full speed while my spring loaded door slammed behind me , point the camera and watch the bird fly away before I even had a chance to see it through the view finder.  I learned that patience and stealth was the key to success.  It’s a hunt, a hunt which requires skill and patience.  The question is how much patience and skill do you put into this task?  As a professional photographer you soon learn that you just can’t photograph every cool thing you see.  In my early days I lived with a camera strapped around my neck and fired away.   I lived my experiences from behind a lens and only when I looked at the pictures I truly lived the experience.  That is no way to live.   I realized it was important to make a change and I started thinking with a business sense.  Do I REALLY need to take a picture of that?  Is the light right? Can I sell that picture? Can I use that picture for anything?  Could that picture go on my portfolio or my website?

Western Tanager


So I had to ask myself, will a wildlife type picture of a bird ever go on my website or porfolio?  Can I sell it…?  Do I need to take that picture?  Probably not.  How much time do I invest taking pictures of birds when the only place I will use them is on my Casa Las Olas vacation rental facebookpage?

Cactus Wren (click on image)
Then I decided  to throw my business sense away and just fire away.  I spent hours stalking birds and trying to get a shot.  I was not trying to shoot art and wait for the perfect light.  I was just trying to get the bird.  It became a hunt and honestly a very fun one.   Some pictures are better than others but the goal was to just document and it didn’t really matter how good the pictures were.

Northern Cardinal, male
A few weeks ago I made it back to my house in Mexico and discovered what I believe is a family of hummingbirds.  Or maybe they are not a family but there is a few of them.  They hang out and drink the nectar from the flowers of a grove of banana trees or from a massive agave that has flowered in its last effort to propagate before it dyes (they flower once and then they die, which is very unfortunate).  I sat by the flowers thinking it was going to be easy.  I had in mind that perfect National Geographic image of the bird hovering over the flower.  What I didn’t realize is that the little bastards move fast and between the Agave and the banana flowers they had a million and one choices and I couldn’t just wait and focus my camera on one flower.  As soon as I would see them hover over one flower I would blink and they would be gone, vanished.  I tried not to blink but you can’t sustain that.  We made circles around the banana grove, the birds always going to the opposite side of were I was.  I think they enjoyed messing with me.  I could hear the surf pound the beach and I had just grabbed my camera on my way to surfing thinking it was going to be a quick deal.  Bang and go.   Surfing was really my priority at that point but soon things flipped around on me, the hunt was on.  I was not going to give up so easily and the little bastards had to be immortalized on pixels.  I blocked the sound of surf from my mind and danced around the bananas.  2 hours went by in a blink but finally I managed a few shots.  The hummingbird was captured for now.  This may or may not be National Geographic material but that will happen later.  After I surf.
Xantus’s Hummingbird (click on images)
Xantus’s Hummingbird


Xantus’s Hummingbird
Xantus’s Hummingbird

Choice Out Loud

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision protecting every woman’s right to abortion. I had the honor of working with 40 other photographers on this project. Check it out the Choice Out Loud project and share it on social media!

First post

Finally after all these years my first BLOG and my #1 POST.  Will it work?