|Fast As Greased Lightning
Photographing flying subjects can be a real challenge for most photographers. It doesn't matter if it is ducks, songbirds, shore birds, or insects, they are all extremely hard to capture in flight. It sometimes takes days or weeks of practice to be able to follow a flying bird, much less something as small as a bee. They are fast as greased lightning!
One of the ways I capture flying subjects such as hummingbirds and songbirds is by using what is known as a photo trap. A good friend of mine, who lives in Arizona, Bill Forbes, makes a black box known as the "The Photo Trap." You may have heard of the Photo Trap (www.phototrap.com) or another product known as the "Dale Beam." In simple terms, once set up these devices will trip your camera when the subject enters or crosses the emitted beam. They work similar to a hunting camera that is set up on game trail to document what is visiting the area and the time of day or night of visits. They are not a camera, but a device that hooks to your camera and allows you to capture subjects in ways that are not possible with you trying to trip the shutter on the camera yourself.
Joe and Mary Ann McDonald (www.hoothollow.com) have been using these devices for years. You may have read some of their articles about them or you may have attended one of their workshops. They have used both the Dale Beam and the Photo Trap and like the ease of setting up the Photo trap. The Dale Beam seems to be more directional and not as versatile as the Photo Trap.
Setting up the Photo Trap and trying to figure out exactly where you want the subject in the photo when the unit trips your camera is the biggest challenge. I don't know of any set formula other than practice, practice and more practice. Unless you have beginners luck or a fancy well oiled horseshoe, you may wonder whatever possessed you to try this type of photography. I've been disappointed with my results more times than I want to remember. Robert Smith, a fellow photographer, recently visited Bill Forbes and I asked Robert to learn all he could from Bill about setting up the Photo Trap and then teach me the tricks of the trade. We got together after his visit with Bill and some of the tips he learned from Bill helped with setting up the unit. From two to six flash units are normally used when doing this type of photography. I typically use five or more flash units.
Digital cameras and wireless flash units have made the use of devices like the Photo Trap far easier to use than in days gone by. I can remember burning a lot of film only to realize I didn't have any usable images. With the use of higher ISO settings of 1000 to 3200 (with low noise or grain) in the newer digital cameras and being able to see instantly on the LCD screen what I've got makes it much simpler especially when I'm setting up the unit. I can tell if my flash units are lighting the area correctly, what my background looks like in the photo, and the point where my subject will trip the device. This is a big help toward capturing the photo I've got in mind. It also helps reduce the amount of time spent in photo shop and sure beats waiting for film to come back from the processor. Not to mention trying to remember how I took the photo when I see it on film.
If you decide to try this type of photography, you won't use all of those bells and whistles on your digital SLR or the TTL functions of your flash units for the most part. Set the camera on manual, pick the ISO you want to use, set the shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second or higher to stop some of the action, take the lens off of auto focus, and set the flash units to manual (not TTL). Next, set up your equipment, hook up the Photo Trap, and do your test shots. Then move away and watch to make sure the unit is tripping when it should and check to make sure you've got enough depth of field (usually set the lens on f8-f16) to cover your subject. If it looks good, you're ready to do something else while the Photo Trap trips the camera. One of the nice things about using the Photo Trap is that it lets you photograph birds coming into feeders while you work on something else or photograph somewhere else. In fact, I'm taking hummingbird photos while I'm writing this story.
The Photo Trap is a great tool to use and allows you to take photos that otherwise would be hard to capture. I'm always surprised and delighted with the images. Thanks to Bill Forbes for coming up with another great tool to help us capture these faster than greased lightning subjects.
For those of you interested in learning more about these units, check out Bill's website, www.phototrap.com. I also plan to have the unit available at our photo weekends and will have both Canon and Nikon camera hook up cords.
Look forward to seeing you soon and hearing all about your wonderful photos and trips.
Take care and travel safely.
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