Posts from the ‘Skogstjarna’ Category

Best Caption Wins!

Taken at my sparrow feeding station at my home in Carlton County, Minnesota. Who has an idea for a caption? Contribute your caption here or on my facebook page here. Let the puns fly!
Black-capped Chickadee and garden gnome Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_9110

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14 Tips for shooting your Vegetable Garden

It’s harvest time! And this is a great time to photographically record the fruits of your labor (veggies of your labor?). So far we’ve been eating peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, basil, and potatoes from my wife’s 16×30 foot garden. The Roma tomatoes, squash, carrots and beets are not quite ready.

1. NATURE’S BOUNTY
Gather up some of your harvest and arrange in a basket or on your picnic table. Then get close so you fill the frame with produce. This works best in open shade or on high overcast days. Even just picked dirt-covered potatoes can look good like this!

garden vegetables Skogstjarna

Gourds2 Carlton Co MN IMG_0051521
Potatos Bridget's Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0014628

Strawberries IMG_0632

Gourds Carlton Co MN IMG_0051527

2. DON’T POO POO CLOUDY OR RAINY DAYS
Light overcast days can be the best time to shoot in your veggie garden. Why? Because the clouds are acting like a giant reflector in the sky and evening out the light. No harsh shadows to deal with either. Extreme contrast between highlights and shadows can be the hardest thing to deal with photographically. It is an especially good time to shoot reflective, shiny surfaces like dewy leaves, tomatoes
beet leaf Bridget's garden Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_3932beet leaf

3. DON’T FORGET YOUR IPHONE!
Crazy as this sounds, your smart phone is a great tool for taking photos and making creative art from your photos.
IMG_3163Okay, it’s not a vegetable or vegetable flower…But this rose photo taken with an iPhone and modified with some special effects app, shows what is possible with “the camera in your back pocket.”

4. HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL? BOTH!
Don’t limit yourself to just horizontal images…Try shooting the same scene both ways, then see which you like best on your computer. Maybe even crop square to test that aesthetic too…It’s hip to be square! (just ask Instagram!)

Pumpkin field horiz Hennepin Co MN IMG_0066639

Pumpkin field vert Hennepin Co MNIMG_0066638

5. PEOPLE IN THE GARDEN
Kids harvesting veggies is always a winner. They love being in the garden and picking stuff. Get low and close for good portraits.
IMG_2708

Bjorn picking tomato Webers Carlton Co MN IMG_0065396

6. GET YOUR KNEES DIRTY
Try shooting from a very low angle to give drama to your photos.
Bjorn picking tomato Webers Carlton Co MN IMG_0065395Bjorn picks a tomato

7. VEGETABLE FLOWERS
The blossoms of vegetables can be just as beautiful as any in your annual flower garden! We are all bummed when we forget to harvest the broccoli and it goes to flower…but then take a deep breath and check out the tiny yellow flowers.
bean flower Bridget's garden Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_4020bean blossom

Cilantro Bridget's garden Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_3999Cilantro flowers

8. THROUGH THE SEASON
Take a series of photos of your garden throughout the season…From planting to Harvest. Remember to take from the EXACT spot each time.

garden July 5 Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_8533July 5th

garden Sept 1 Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_4930September 1st

9. DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
Helianthus annuus Common Sunflower Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2662

10. INSECTS/BUTTERFLIES
Don’t just curse and kill the insects in your garden…Shoot them! Some ‘pests’ are quite beautiful. Butterflies can often be found in vegetable gardens too.

11. OTHER STUFF
Don’t forget the other “stuff” in your garden. Garden gnomes are very well-behaved subjects! I took the “pumpkin” sign photo with a very shallow depth of field (shot at f2 with a 60mm lens) and put the pumpkin blossom in the background.
pumpkin blossom Bridget's garden Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_3984

12. SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD
Let’s get artsy! You can only do this with a DSLR and lenses with apertures in the f1.2 to f2 range.

13. BACKLIGHT
Backlighting can really add drama to some images. Here is a pumpkin leaf taken into the sun to highlight the road-like maze of veins.
Squash leaf Bridget's garden Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_4040

14. ON THE TABLE
Complete the story with photos of the meals you make from your vegetables.

Grand Slam of the Giant Silkworm Moths!

Last year I got the “Trifecta of Mega Moths” …Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna; But this year I added the Promethea to get the GRAND SLAM!
All were photographed between my house and garage. My technique is simple…Leave the garage light on all night then go out in the morning and try (emphasize the word “try”) to move them gently to a more photogenic perch. You have to go out very early (5:30 to 6:30 am) before they warm up and fly off.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6573CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia) The genus is named after Cecrops I, the mythical first king of Athens, and it is certainly the KING of North American moths…It is one of the showiest and largest with a wingspan approaching 6 inches. Caterpillars are especially fond of maple leaves but also feed on tamarack, spruce, birch and cherry. Sparse population in the “wild” as there may only be a couple adults in a square mile of forest, BUT some residential populations can be quite dense. Males may FLY 20 MILES (!) over several nights, and mate with several females.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6580CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia)

Luna Moth Actias luna Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7524LUNA MOTH (Actias luna) Luna the Goddess, was the ancient Roman divine personification of the Moon. Caterpillars much prefer the Paper Birch leaves in the north woods. This is my best Luna photo in a long while…Unfortunately it is on the T-111 siding on my garage. When I tried to move it, it started its flopping-Arching defense and escaped.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7544PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7537PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea) Prometheus, a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gifts humanity with fire” (Wikipedia). Adults live for a week and may fly 20 miles in that time period. This is a female but the darker male is day-flying and may mimic the unpalatable swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillars feed on black cherry, ash and perhaps, lilac.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7529PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7850POLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus) Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. And a semi-appropriate name as this huge moth shows one striking “eye” on each hindwing. The thought is that bird predators will attach the false eyes on the hindwings and do little damage to the moth itself. Caterpillars feed on birch, maple, willow and oak.

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7855 copyPOLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus)The “face” of a Polyphemus when viewed at close range…complete with eyebrows!

HOME MOTH PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
1. Leave a garage/exterior house light on overnight (but don’t overdo it…leave the light off for a couple of nights between sessions, otherwise Gray Treefrogs, squirrels and birds will feast on your moths at dawn)
2. Go out early and see what the light brought in. Get outside between 5:30 and 6:30am before the moths warm up and start flying away.
3. Take “record” shots of moths perched on your garage or house siding, or porch. Then try to move them to better perches using native plants, trees. I slowly slip a flat piece of wood (about the size of a shim) under the moth until it clings to it. Then I move to my backdrop of choice and ease them onto that.
4. I have my flash and basic exposure set already…You can use a pop-up flash or hot-shoe flash, but you really should use some flash to make your subject pop.
5. I like to set a manual exposure that keeps my shutter at between 1/160 and 1/250 when using the pop-up flash (which synchs at 1/250 max). Sometimes, for larger moths, I can use my hot shoe flash set to Hi-speed synch to get higher shutter speeds. Remember, much of your shooting will be early in the morning and you may have to crank up the ISO to get these shutter speeds.
6. Now here is the part that has really improved my moth/insect shots..I switch the camera to live view and manual focus. Now when I see my favored composition in the viewfinder, I magnify the live view to 5x power. I now simply move my body/hands/camera in and out until the key part of the subject is razor-sharp in the live view viewfinder and click the shutter. I guarantee this technique will improve your moth and insect images!

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Tamron f2 100mm macro lens (all images used manual focus). All handheld…Many taken at ISO 1600 or higher!]

Wild Turkeys gone Wild…right out our window!

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6733

GREAT NORTH WOODS GOBBLERS
If someone had told me when I bought my land back in the early 90s, that I’d have up to 19 Wild Turkeys at my feeder someday, I would have told them they were CRAZY! At that time, Wild Turkeys in Minnesota were extremely rare outside of the very southeast corner of the state. “Besides,” I would have told them, “turkeys need acorns and open meadows…My land is pines and aspen and maple, very densely wooded.” Plus, I would have pointed out, they can’t survive in areas with deep snowpack. Good thing I didn’t make a wager!

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6665
TURKEYS IN THE SNOW (NOT “TURKEYS IN THE STRAW”)
I first noticed Wild Turkeys in our neck of the woods a few years ago when I’d hear a distant Tom gobbling on clear and calm April mornings. He was far away…maybe a half mile or more back in the Schillo’s south field. And I recorded a small group on my trail camera. Then last year one or two made a couple appearances at our feeders, but never when we were home. This year, the floodgate opened. Up to 19 Wild Turkeys have foraged under our feeders this winter. I started throwing out buckets full of cracked corn. But they are extremely wary…and any motion inside the house often sends them scurrying for the shelter of the ravine.

TOM TURKEY DISPLAY VIDEO
The above video was taken from our living room while I was in my pajamas trying to balance the camera on a coffee table and a stack of books, all the while trying to keep Birk (4) and Bjorn (2) from jumping off the couch and shaking the video camera….That is why there is no audio..You wouldn’t want to hear it!

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6660
SURFING WITHOUT A SURFBOARD
In late March, I got a big surprise when, not one, but TWO Toms began displaying right outside our picture window. A half dozen hens were feeding and seemed oblivious to the male’s full-on, fluffed-out display. The males would slowly circle each other and occasionally bump chests in slow motion. An occasional ruffle of the feathers is meant to impress. Then one morning, I saw a Tom displaying over a hen sitting in the snow. He eventually hopped up on her back and stood there for nearly ten minutes, all the while balancing on his precarious perch. Every time she made any movement, he had to react and respond to keep his balance. It was literally like watching a novice surfer on a surfboard. Impressive balancing act! Finally he hunkered down and she shifted her tail and the actual mating took place, lasting mere seconds.

Cottontail and Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_5999The Cottontails, squirrels and turkeys all tolerated each other at the feeder. But each had their own personal space which could not be violated, lest they spook.

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_5986

Skogstjarna feeder Wild Turkey IMG_7118

Wild Turkeys at feeder Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_5938The morning spectacle (Above 2 images taken from our living room…Our feeders are about 18 feet from the house!).

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN Wild Turkeys Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_5027

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN Wild Turkeys Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_5023WIDE ANGLE FUN
The two photos above were taken with a super-wide telephoto lens from snow level. How did I take these without spooking these spooky birds? I set my camera up on a mini-tripod outside where the turkeys usually fed. Then I used my remote trigger to release the shutter from inside the house. So I could sit in my easy chair drinking coffee and watching the morning news, and still be taking wildlife photos! But note that this is very low percentage shooting.

Wild Turkey tom Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7403

Wild Turkey tom Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7411

**NOTE THAT ALL THESE PHOTOS WERE TAKEN FROM OUR LIVING ROOM! …THROUGH DOUBLE-PANED, KID-SMUDGED WINDOWS. DON’T LET PEOPLE TELL YOU THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TAKE PHOTOS THROUGH YOUR WINDOWS.
[All taken with Canon 7D…Most taken with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and camera set to Shutter Priority 1/500 second and auto-ISO. Wide angles taken with Sigma 10-20mm lens and remote trigger]

Top Twenty Images of 2012

2012 is gone and I’ve had a chance to look at all my images from the year and pick my favorites. Time helps clear your vision. Some images I was crazy about right after I took them, are no longer exciting to me. Here I present my favorite images of 2012 in reverse order…Maybe not the most saleable nor necessarily the best portraits (which can be boring), but the shots that I kept coming back to..the ones that intrigued me…or were difficult to get…or were the most creative. And this last bit about creativity brings me to my big announcement for 2013…I will be releasing a new video: GET CREATIVE: WILDLIFE IMAGES BEYOND THE PORTRAIT this year. Stay tuned!

near Saginaw, Minnesota St. Louis County #20—The surprise image of the year…I was perusing photos from my June work for the Minnesota County Biological Survey when I found this very underexposed, blaah image. But then I saw the potential as a high-contrast black and white image. The result was a very graphic silhouette of a foraging Pine Warbler amongst the long delicate needles of a Red Pine. St. Louis County, Minnesota.

07-Best2012 Ruby-throated Hummingbird female and Liatris Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0064370 #19—I spent much quality time with our backyard hummers this summer. We mainly hosted females but occasionally a bully male would show up…but never when my camera was in place. I was using flash and a Better Beamer to throw light onto the hummer but in this shot the flash did not fire. But I like the resulting softer look…No harsh light blasting the tiny bird. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

11-Best2012 blurred leaves Rock Pond Duluth MN IMG_0067511 #18—Fall leaves always seem to vex me…I have a hard time creating interesting images of the stunning scenes around me in late September/early October. On this windy day I used a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to render the leaves a colorful blur while the trunks remained relatively still. I like the contrast of white vs. orange and blur vs. sharp. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota.

16-Best2012 Bald Eagle from firetower at Big Bog SRA Koochiching Co MN IMG_0055770 (1) #17—Eye-level Bald Eagle shots are not easy to come by! And this one has a story…It was taken 80 feet up in a firetower! I was visiting Big Bog State Recreation Area in far north central Minnesota and decided to climb the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of Lower Red Lake and surrounding forests. Some distant eagles caught my attention and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one flies past me in my aerial perch…And the miraculous part is that one did! It was not a gleaming white and black adult but rather a dramatically patterned youngster. I panned with the bird and amazingly it came out razor sharp.

18-Best2012 Swans geese St. Louis River fog Fond du Lac MN IMG_0055161 #16—I cross this bridge over the St.Louis River on the outskirts of Duluth every day on the way to work. It has many moods and this hazy spring afternoon created a bucolic and blue still life of swans, ducks, ice and trees.

IMG_0070171 #15—My youngest son, Bjorn, shows great promise as a wildlife photographer…At least he looks good in khaki!

19-Best2012 Cedar Waxwing Gunflint Trail Brule River Cook Co MN File0113 #14—Not a set-up! A fortuitous find that resulted in a very nice portrait with a little behavior too. This very rarely happens but it did this August morning on the Gunflint Trail. I’d just returned from a early morning paddle on the Brule River, loaded up the canoe and was pulling out of the dirt parking area when I spotted the foraging Cedar Waxwings in a heavily-fruited Mountain Ash.

15-Best2012 water lily File0169 #13—Just a very pleasing composition (to me anyway)…a water lily on dark water taken from a low angle to get the reflection. I also love the purplish lily pads. Cook County, Minnesota.

04-Best2012 Lower Yellowstone Falls IMG_0067608 #12—A very long exposure with my 10mm Sigma lens was made possible by a 9-stop ND filter. I love the soft ethereal feel of the powerful Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, belying the thunderous roar. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

17-Best2012 Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002136 #11—I had to include this portrait as I have been trying to get a decent winter Snowshoe Hare photo for years! And on this snowy Sax-Zim Bog day, I succeeded! The hare really felt it was invisible and stayed put as I crawled closer and closer through the snow.

12-Best2012 Abandoned house and tree Itasca Co nr Northome MN IMG_0055660_59_58_tonemapped 88-0-7-4-10 #10—Seems like I always slip in a non-nature subject. I really enjoy photographing vernacular architecture, including abandoned buildings like this farmhouse. A HDR image and sepia color finished it off. Itasca County, Minnesota.

10-Best2012 Polyphemus Moth Antheraea polyphemus detail Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0057753 #9—Abstract macro image of a Polyphemus Moth’s wings turned upside down to create a strange “face” complete with big blue eyes and a puckered mouth. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

05-Best2012 Swinging bridge flood IMG_0058741 #8—The banner headline of 2012 for us Duluthians/Carltonians was the Great Flood of June. It affected all of us dramatically. But my most powerful image was this shot of the raging St. Louis River taking out the historic and much loved Swinging Bridge of Jay Cooke State Park. Read more here.

08-Best2012 Sharp-tailed Grouse Carlton Co MN IMG_0056142 #7—A rite of spring, the congregation of Sharp-tailed Grouse at their dancing grounds or leks, is an event I hate to miss. But it is always difficult shooting. They are most active just before sunrise when the light is poor…And it is April so the weather is often cloudy and windy. Visibility in the cramped blind is not great either. This time I resorted to a slow shutter speed and panning. I love the shot as it conveys the manic intensity of the males as they dance, pursue females, and chase off rival males. Carlton County, Minnesota.

09-Best2012 Moose bull called in Dumbell Rd Superior National Forest MN nr Isabella IMG_0066747 #6—One of the few straight-up wildlife portraits in the collection, but I had to include it. Much has been made of the dramatic decline of Moose in Minnesota…and it makes me very sad. They are one of my favorite mammals. I learned to call Moose years ago…imitating the sound of a female. After a several-year dry spell, I was able to call this young bull in this fall. Intense moments followed as he was deciding whether I was a cow Moose or some stupid human. Thankfully he came to the right conclusion! See the video here.

14-Best2012 abstract river rocks IMG_0069193 #5—Can you tell what this is? Colorful river rocks below a Yellowstone National Park stream. It’s funny…I really don’t like abstract painting but I love much abstract photography.

06-Best2012 Ring-billed Gull Duluth MN tungsten w-2 1-2 CTO gels on flash IMG_0065801 #4—Two icons of Duluth in one shot! The Aerial Lift Bridge and a Ring-billed Gull. Not your typical wildlife shot but one that is certainly unique. In this technique I learned from flash/lighting guru ??? you set your camera to tungsten white balance (to turn the dark brooding sky blue) and then use a flash with an orange CTO gel to throw a very warm light on the subject, in this case, a Ring-billed Gull.

13-Best2012 IMG_0068269 #3—Often times I’ll get home from a trip and when viewing my images in Aperture, I’ll come across an unexpected prize. It’s like Christmas as a kid! I thought I knew what my favorites would be from viewing them in the field on the back of my camera…but I’m often wrong. This is one such image. It was taken into the sunlight to backlight the Bison’s fur…but it was mostly a “G&G” shot (grab-and-go)…No premeditation, No tripod…Jump out of the car and “snap.” But after converting the image to sepia, I really loved it. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

02-Best2012 Monarch IA IMG_0065536 #2—I really concentrated on wide-angle wildlife this year and this may be my favorite. Crawling on my knees for hours on an Iowa prairie in September finally netted me this image. Read the whole story here. Northeast Iowa.

01-Best2012 Great Gray Owl peek-a-boo McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0058141 #1—Drumroll please…My personal favorite from 2012. Read the whole story of this bog encounter here. See the video here. I like the Great Gray Owl’s furtive glance around the trunk of a spruce…It lends an air of mystery. It is very “Brandenburg’s-wolf-peek-esque” if you’ve ever seen his famous photo. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.

Hummingbird Hijinx: How to get awesome hummer/native plant images

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Turk’s-cap Lily, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota (i.e. my “backyard”)

The whole family has had a blast watching the Ruby-throated Hummingbird antics at our backyard feeder this summer. We’ve had up to 4 around the feeder at once. Though there are six feeding holes in the dispenser, they seem unable to feed peaceably next to each other. Fights are non-stop. For a while we had the “bully,” a male who sat like a king on his throne on the hanging bracket and chased away any nearby hummer…even when he wasn’t interested in feeding. The last few summers we’ve had the feeder out by the garden, but moving it to the “backyard” was the best move we could have made. Our large picture windows allowed great viewing and also helped remind us when the sugar-water mix was low or out. We used to forget about it when it was by the garden and let it run dry much to the hummers chagrin.

Here is an example of a flash image that I don’t like as much as the non-flash image below. (Liatris bloom)
And this is why you keep your finger on the shutter even after your flash fires. Sometimes you like the non-flash image! Though only shot at a relatively slow 1/250 of a second, the hummer’s head is sharp, which proves that though hovering with wings beating at 55-70 times per second, their head is absolutely still. Amazing! This might be my favorite from “the summer of the hummer.”

My first goal was to get some photos of Ruby-throats feeding on native flowers…A very difficult shot in the wild. Why is this type of image tough to capture? Because in the wild, you can’t control the situation. If you plant yourself near some highly desirable hummingbird flowers (Liatris, Monarda, Milkweed, etc) you never know when one might show up, and then it will be cautious of that weird large human with the “bazooka” pointing at it. On the other hand, if you stumble upon a feeding hummer, it is highly unlikely that you’ll have time to focus, position the flash, get the correct exposure and fire off a shot before the hummer moves on, as they normally quickly move from flower to flower.

plampThe native plant/clamp hummingbird set up.
A female comes in to an irresistable Morning-Glory bloom.
Here’s where the hummer’s long bill and tongue really come in handy; deep corolla flowers like Morning-Glory “hide” their nectar deep inside.

NOW, HOW TO DO IT (FOR ALL YOU FELLOW PHOTO NERDS!)
To get clean hummingbird images, you need to control the situation. First I gathered a native and photogenic flower and put it in water so it wouldn’t wilt. I then set up my camera on a tripod about 25 feet from the feeder. You have to judge the distance for yourself and what lens you are using, but you want enough room surrounding the flower to allow for the body of the hummer. You don’t want to be so tight that you clip part of the bird. Err on the side of too much space around the flower as you can always crop later. I attached my flash and to that attached a Better Beamer (a flash attachment that uses a fresnel lens to concentrate the beam of your flash so it projects further).

Now, I took the native flower and attached it to the bracket that the feeder was hanging on. I used a regular clamp this time but often use the “plamp” (plant clamp) from Wimberley to do this. One end has a beefy clamp that can attach to tree branches, a tripod leg, or in this case, the hanging bracket. You can then twist and bend the plamp into any position you need. The flower end of the plamp has a swiveling low tension clamp so you can fine tune the flower’s position.

Quickly test your set up. Position your tripod so that you will be shooting exactly perpendicular to the feeding hummingbird (if this is the shot you want). This is possible with Morning-Glory but not with Liatris where they can feed on all sides of the flower. Also look for the best background for your images. You don’t want distracting branches, blown out sky, ugly browns in your background. This is a VERY important step that can make or break a photo. Since I am in a very wooded spot, I am especially worried about “hot” branches, branches lit up by the sun that cause very distracting light lines,blobs in the final photo. What I do look for are nicely lit, even green foliage that I know will blur into a smooth green background.

I pre-focus on the spot where I want the hummingbird and then turn off the auto focus on the lens. This way I don’t have to be looking through the camera when I’m shooting. I just watch and press the shutter when I think the hummer is in position. Now quickly fire off a few test shots. Exposure is always a compromise between shutter speed and aperture. You want a relatively shallow depth-of-field (DOF) to get out-of-focus backgrounds BUT you also want enough DOF so both hummer and flower are in focus. A delicate balancing act for sure. Most are shot at f5.6 to f6.3. For the majority of these images I used high-speed sync for my flash, shooting at 1/1000 of a second (all but the Liatris images). But I don’t think I’d do this again. I like some blur in my hummingbird wings…It adds some drama, reality, motion into the image…And even 1/1000 doesn’t come close to freezing them…And high-speed sync seems to take more effort from your flash so it doesn’t recycle as quickly as when shooting at its regular 1/250 sync speed.

The final key to this operation is to cover the hummingbird feeder completely with a towel. You can also remove the feeder if you like but I found this just an extra unnecessary step. Now plant yourself next to your camera and get ready…finger on the shutter button. Because if you have an active feeding station it won’t take long for the first hummer to come zinging in. He/she will seem confused at first, trying to get at the covered feeder, but then it will see the showy flower you provided conveniently at hummer-head height, and think to itself, “Why not? It’s here, it has nectar, might as well try it” and that is when you start firing off shots as fast as your flash will recycle. But actually I just keep shooting because even non-flash images in a sequence can be beautiful.

This set-up really works well on established hummingbird feeders…but only for a few minutes…until all the local hummers have been fooled and tried your flower and used up the nectar. So I immediately take down the flower and uncover the feeder after my photo session…Usually less than half an hour. You don’t want to frustrate your guests too much so they go over to your neighbor’s feeder!

My big failure for the summer was NEVER getting a male to feed on “my flower”…I think all the images here would be enhanced with the male’s iridescent throat feathers shining like a ruby in the sunlight/flash burst. Oh well, there’s always next summer!

**[All images take with Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 430EX flash with Better Beamer attached. Tripod. Most at f5.6 or 6.3 at ISO 200 to 400, 1/250 to 1/1000]

Trifecta of Mega Moths: The Giant Silkworm Moths


Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

It has been a FANTASTIC year for butterflies and moths. Why? I’m not sure but there has been some speculation that the mild winter allowed more hibernators to survive. This would explain the incredible explosion of Mourning Cloak butterflies but what about the moths that winter as eggs or cocoons?

I’ve been keeping one single garage light on (compact flourescent bulb!) for the last few weeks, and I’ve managed to attract dozens of species, including my personal trifecta of giant silkworm moths in the family Saturniidae—Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus), Luna Moth (Actias luna) and the Cecropia (Hyalophora cecropia).

All were photographed near my house and garage. In the morning I check “my catch”…the moths that have been attracted to the light overnight. I then carefully maneuver them onto a stick and move them to a more attractive setting than my garage’s T-111 siding!


Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

The Polyphemus is just as large (6-inch wingspan) as the Cecropia, but more common in our area.”Polyphemus” refers to the one-eyed giant son of Poseidon in Greek mythology.

In southern New England there was a reported decline in giant silkworm moth populations. It was speculated that pesticides, habitat loss, increased lighting at night had all contributed to this decline. But there was little evidence for any of this…even that there was a decline. But it was discovered that a fly introduced to control the Gypsy Moth was parasitizing the caterpillars of these large silkworm moths. The fly is Compsilura concinnata. I have not seen any reports of declines in the North Woods.


Luna Moth (Actias luna)

Luna Moths (like all giant silkworm moths in the Saturniidae) are living batteries, running on energy stored when in the ravenous caterpillar stage. In fact, the adults have non-functional mouthparts. Adults only live about a week. Females mate, lay eggs and die. Males mate and die.

Unfortunately for me, this specimen was 12 feet up in a spruce and in harsh light. This photo was one of my “insurance shots” before I tried to clip the branch to move it into shaded light. That failed miserably (for me) as the Luna flew skyward and disappeared to the north.


Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

It is surmised that the lifelike “eyes” on the Polyphemus’s hindwings startle potential predators giving them an extra second to escape.

The Cecropia is one of our largest North Woods moth having a 6 inch wingspan. Amazingly, males may fly more than 20 miles over several nights in search of females. The females release a pheromone that the males key in on. Populations are often thin with only a few adults per square mile, BUT, surprisingly populations can be quite dense in some suburban areas.

A good field guide will really inspire your moth study. Our Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods by Jim Sogaard shows over 300 species of moths (and their caterpillars) including 9 species of Giant Silkworm Moths. Jim shares ID tips, Life Cycle, Range, Caterpillar foods for each species. Order it through Amazon.com.