Category Archives: photography

Back Yard Humming Birds

Trying to get a decent shot of back yard humming birds has been an exercise in frustration for me.  It’s something I’ve been working on for several years now.

As far as gear  goes, I’ve used Canon DSLR’s (40D and 60D) and 70-200mm f/4 and f/2.8 lenses.  Lately I’ve been using M43 gear including my Olympus E-M5 and now my Panasonic GX8.  Lens choice for M43 is usually between my Panasonic 45-200mm or Olympus 75-300mm.  Neither of these lenses are considered fast, meaning they have a variable aperture with the 45-200mm being faster at f/5.6 vs the 75-300 at f/6.7 at the long end of their zoom range.

So, what does all of that aperture and f-stop stuff mean?  A faster lens, one with an f/2.8 aperture at full zoom will let in a lot more light than one like mine that is f/5.6 at best.  This means you can use a faster, action freezing shutter speed at a lower ISO setting.  Since I don’t have that advantage, I have to get creative to make what I do have work.

One of the things I tried in order to get a decent shutter speed is to increase the ISO.  With my Panasonic GX8 and Oly 75-300mm combination, I start the ISO at 800 and have gone as high as 1600.  While this does increase the sensors sensitivity to light, it can also introduce noise.

With an ISO as high as 1600, I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/800th to 1/1000th of a second. This seems like it should be enough to freeze a humming bird in flight but my results were hit and miss.

Here’s an example:

It’s not a bad shot, but compared to what I’ve seen on various websites and online forums I know it could be much better!

After some very useful information from one of my favorite online forums, and doing a little research, I learned that some folks have excellent results by using flash. This was something I hadn’t considered before. I have a Yongnuo 560III flash that I have only used from time to time and this seemed like a good opportunity to put it to work.

There isn’t an exact science to setting up the camera. I lowered my GX8’s ISO from 800 down to 400, and set my shutter speed for 1/200th of a second, and aperture at 300mm is f/6.7. This was just a starting point and I made some adjustments based on a couple of test shots on a wandering butterfly. One important note is how I set up my flash. The 560III is strictly a manual flash, no TTL or ETTL. Because of this, I needed to determine how much to adjust it’s power output. My starting point was 1/8 power, and once again I adjusted it based on my test shots, but never more than 1/4 power. One of the benefits of keeping the power output of the flash low is that it will recycle much quicker and be ready to fire another shot within a few seconds.

And now for the results:


As you can see, using flash allowed me to capture the humming bird in flight, and increase the color and detail of this tiny little bird. Even with a much lower shutter speed that when I was shooting in natural light with a hight ISO, I was better able to freeze the action using flash.

While I am pleased with the progress I’ve made, there’s still some work to do. One of the problems I’m having is trying to accurately follow these little speedsters as they flit from flower to flower. There are times when the camera will lose focus, and by the time it comes back, the humming bird is gone. I think this just proves that I still have to keep practicing! In the future, I’d like to try and set up the flash off camera, on a stand and a little closer. I may have to disguise it so it doesn’t spook the birds. And just to increase my odds, I got another humming bird feeder. Personally, I like to capture the birds around the flowers and not have a feeder in view, so I have it there mostly as an attractor.

I’ll close this post out by saying that I am in no way an expert on this subject. If anything, I am humbled by both the humming birds and some of the photographers whose I work I’ve seen and admired online.
If you’re curious or want information from a real pro, check out this website – Gerlach Nature Photography. I plan on picking up one of his books for more insight and how-to information. If you have any tips, tricks, or comments, head over to my Facebook page – Up At Dawn Photography and leave them.  Sorry for having you jump over to Facebook, I’ve given up on comments here on the website, there’s just too much spam to deal with.

That’s it, now get out there and do some shooting!

Something Different, An RV Adventure!

This post is going to be a little different because I’m going to talk about our recent RV trip (with just a little photography thrown in).

Our usual June schedule is to get in the RV and go to Prescott, Arizona to visit family.  We spend a few days there, and then return home.  This year we also had family spending a few days in Mammoth Lakes, California within a couple of days of our planned Arizona departure.  So, we decided to connect the two trips together to make it one grand adventure!

Another difference between our 2015 Arizona trip and this year’s trip was we got a new motorhome.  Our previous motorhome was a 29 foot Class C, and this year we have a 33 foot Class A.


Maverick, 2006 29ft Class C Motorhome by Georgie Boy/Coachman


Goggins, 2006 33ft Class A Motorhome by Fleetwood

There are quite a few differences between the two motorhomes, including size.  Goggins (a name we borrowed from our Grandson) is built on a W22 Workhorse chassis, is 33 feet long, has 2 slideouts and has much more storage than Maverick.  Maverick was built on a Ford E-450 Truck/Van chassis and didn’t have any slideouts.

Driving Goggins is a much different experience than driving Maverick.  At almost 13 feet high, Goggins presents quite a large flat surface going down the road, kind of like a billboard.  So, when it gets windy or large trucks pass me, I can really feel it.  Nothing unsafe, but it can really get your attention and keep you on your toes!

Here’s a look at our route:

Our adventure started in Fontana, California, across the desert (during a heatwave) to Prescott, Arizona. From Prescott, we continued on for an overnight stay in Boulder City, Nevada. It was still very hot in Boulder City, and we had the longest leg of our journey across the Nevada desert to Mammoth Lakes, California. Before we headed home, we spent a couple of days in Lone Pine, California.

Just before we got under way, I was able to purchase an RV specific GPS, the Garmin RV 760LMT. The Garmin 760 is a decent GPS, and it’s larger size makes it easy to see on the large dashboard of Goggins. I was able to connect it to my Mac using the supplied software and download all of my routes and waypoints. I could have included the route as well, but opted not to, and let the GPS do that from waypoint to waypoint. There’s not much else to say about it, except that I didn’t rely solely on it for planning our trip. There are a lot of trip planning tools out there, but I found Good Sam’s Trip Planner does a very good job. The other tool that I used a lot was Google Maps. For each leg of the trip, I used Google Maps to locate gas stations, and shifted to Street View to verify that it was suitable for an RV the size of Goggins.

The grand total in milage was just over 1,200. This was by far our longest RV trip to date. As I already mentioned, we crossed many miles of desert. We also had the opportunity to do quite a bit of climbing up some very steep grades. At 33 feet long, Goggins is quite heavy at approximately 20,000 pounds, not to mention that we also tow our Honda CR-V. I have to say that I’m very impressed with the Workhorse Chassis. Goggins is powered by a Chevy Vortec 8.1 liter engine and has an Allison transmission, and the combination worked quite well. The only downside that I can think of is that at times there is quite a bit of noise. It doesn’t help that we are sitting right on top of the engine and transmission, but the main noise maker is when the clutch fan kicks in. And, since we were in the middle of a heat wave and doing a fair amount of climbing mountains, the fan kicked on a lot!

As the temperature rose outside, I started off by using the dash air. It worked adequately for awhile, but as we got further into the desert, between Blythe, California and Quartzsite, Arizona the thermometer climbed to 120. In order to keep the inside of the coach somewhat comfortable, I started the generator and turned on both of the roof air conditioners. This strategy actually worked well, that is until we got onto some rough roads. Once we got off of Interstate 10 and on some two lane secondary roads heading to Congress, Arizona, we pitched and bounced around enough that the carburetor on the generator flooded out. I pulled over and was able to get it running again, but the road didn’t change and it just stopped again. Luckily we were gaining elevation and the temperature was slowly dropping from 120 down to 100. I know, that still seems very hot, but the drop was enough for the dash air alone to keep us comfortable.

Moving from a Maverick (Class C) to Goggins (Class A) with its 2 slide outs was a huge difference when we are parked. We have quite a bit more storage, both inside and a lot more leg room! We can stretch out, the dogs can play, and we aren’t bumping into each other constantly. It’s amazing what a couple of slide outs will do! One of the other little luxuries we now enjoy is a powered awning. In the past, Maverick’s manual awning did provide shade, but it was always a pain to put it up when a sudden wind came up. There were plenty of times during our 9 years with Maverick that a pleasant day turned to night, and we went to bed with the awning out (but tied down). Then, seemingly out of nowhere a heavy wind came up and started pulling on the awning and shaking us awake. So, I pulled on my clothes, jumped outside in the dark and worked to get the awning put away before the wind did any damage. Now, with Goggins I simply push a button, and the awning rolls up without a fuss!



From my ramblings above, you’d think the trip was only about driving Goggins. As I mentioned, we did visit with family, both in Prescott and Mammoth Lakes. We saw some beautiful scenery, drove through some very interesting little towns like Goldfield, Nevada, and had some fun hiking and playing golf! I was also able to sneak in some photography now and then.






So, I know this website is dedicated to photography, and you’re probably wondering what this post has to do with that. Actually, not much! RV’ing, spending time with family, spending time in nature are also passions of mine. I did mention that I was able to sneak in some photography time, and I’ll cover that in another post. The only thing I will say is that I used my LG-G4 cell phone’s camera for all of the photos in this post. Yes, I did have my other cameras with me, but there were many times when all I had was the cell phone. The LG-G4 did a pretty good job overall. I used Snapseed to edit my photos once they were on the phone, and I have Google Photos set up to automatically back up every shot I take. It works great and is something you should consider.

That’s it for this post. I’ll get back to photography next time. In the meantime, get out there and make some memories!

FZ1000 Air Show Performance

It’s been over 1 year since I first wrote about using my Panasonic FZ1000 at an air show, specifically the Planes of Fame Air Show in Chino, California.  I had just purchased the Panasonic GX8 prior to this air show and brought my FZ1000 along as backup.

The GX8 seems like a great camera, and I did manage to get some good results using it.  But, while it has a lot of features and functions, it also has a learning curve, and I planned very poorly trying to use and learn it during the air show.

This is where the FZ1000  came in to save the day!  The FZ1000 may not be small, but it is light, and operates very quickly.  There is no need to change the lens, and that alone can be stress relieving.  Simply turn it on, make your setting changes, zoom in or out, and fire away!

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  Not every shot was a keeper.  When a plane would pass in front of the crowd, I would start panning, then lock focus and fire a few frames, then repeat.  Sometimes I would get caught up in the moment, and fire off too many frames and bog the camera down.  Even with a fast SD card, there was definitely a limit on how many frames you could shoot.  It needs to be noted that I shoot RAW, and the files are larger and bog things down more quickly.  When this happened, I had to wait for the camera to process the files before I could shoot again.

The GX8 also has a limitation on how many RAW files (or jpegs) you can fire off in a burst before you bog things down.  The limit is just higher with the GX8.

I don’t want to talk too much about the GX8.  If you are interested, I have 2 previous posts devoted to this subject and welcome you to check them out here, and here.

Some of the talk about the FZ1000 at an event like this revolve around the limitation of the 400mm lens.  Personally, I don’t find this to be a limitation.  It helps me stop trying to get shots of planes that are simply too far away to get a decent picture.  Not only does every little movement magnify when you’re zoomed out, but the atmosphere itself can work against you,  at least at this air show. When I’m zoomed out I can see the heat waves rising off of the pavement, and the distortions in the air can ruin a photo (unless that’s the look you were going for).  Perhaps there are air shows in other areas that don’t have this problem, but this is normal for an arid area like Chino California.  If the planes are too far away for a decent picture, I put the camera down and enjoy the show, and wait.

Another issue is cropping, and yes, I do a bit of cropping.  Having a RAW file size of 5472 pixels x 3548 pixels allows a little room for cropping, the trick is not cropping too much.  I generally don’t look at my files at over 100%, but have been pleased with them when I do happen to view them at higher resolutions.

There is the other end of the lens that I use quite a bit as well, the wide part.  The FZ1000 lens can go to 25mm at its widest point.  This can come in handy when you are trying to fill the frame with your subject.  There is some distortion, but it is easily worked out during post processing.

My FZ1000 continues to be one of my favorite cameras.  It is absolutely the most versatile camera I have ever owned.  And, it doesn’t matter to me that it has a 1″ sensor, the picture quality has matched or exceeded with I could do with my old Canon 60D.  I’ll be keeping, and using my FZ1000 for a long time!

And now for the results:








That’s it for now, thanks for looking and until next time – Happy Shooting!