Taking pictures of hummingbirds is hard work, people.
They are tiny and lightning quick.
Each trip to the feeder lasts all of five seconds- at most.
I spent three hours total photographing hummingbirds, an hour a day for three days. Which is to say, I spent about sixty seconds actually taking pictures, and two hours, fifty-nine minutes sitting in my kitchen sink leaning out the window and patiently waiting for hummingbirds to show up.
While waiting, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about an article I read recently on Get Rich Slowly,titled “Closing the Gap Between Dreams and Reality”. Now, this article was primarily concerned with achieving financial goals, but I’ve been turning it around in my head ever since: What are my dreams? What are my goals? What am I doing to turn my dreams into reality?
Slowly it crept up on me that I was doing something right at that moment to achieve a dream. Not my life’s dream, certainly, but a goal that I had set for myself, and I’d set the bar high.
I wanted a nice, clear photograph of my hummingbird friends, that I could have enlarged, printed, and framed on my wall, to remind me of the excitement and joy that I felt when I first saw them. A daily visual reminder to be happy.
There were a number of steps that I took to achieve this little dream. (At least 20.) Just because it was little doesn’t mean that it wasn’t immensely frustrating, time-consuming, and difficult.
By viewing my path to achieve a little dream, I was able to better envision a journey towards my larger dreams.
Whether you dream of financial freedom, creative success, environmental change, a better life, or just a halfway decent hummingbird photo…I hope that you might be able to tease something useful from my small success.
- Don’t give up before you’ve begun. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, “It can’t be done.” “That’s impossible.” Often, impossible tasks are, in fact, not impossible, but really rather difficult.
- Define your goals, as specifically as you can. I think it’s important to really define your goals so you know when you’ve reached them; otherwise, how will you know when you’ve succeeded? To endeavor is one thing, to always be working towards an illusive “something better” seems a sure road to disappointment. Again, my stated goal: a picture, framable, that would remind me of the joy of these hummingbird days.
- Do your research; know your subject. I sat and watched those hummingbirds for hours. I learned that they almost always flew in from the right, they favored a particular feeding station, and that one could expect an appearance at the feeder every eight minutes or so. I also kept a close eye on the light levels on that side of the house throughout the day.
- Know your limitations, and work around them. In this case, I was dealing with an unpredictable autofocus, since I have a point and shoot camera. There was really no telling ahead of time whether the camera would decide to focus on the bird, the feeder, or the trees beyond, and since the hummingbird sits at the perch for all of five seconds, I didn’t have a lot of time to waste on trial and error. So I would pre-focus, swing my camera around, and keep my finger on that trigger until a bird flew into sight. Then I would fully depress the shutter release.
- Form a plan and stick to it. I decided on the best time to shoot- between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m.- and planned my morning around that window. I emptied my memory disk and charged my extra battery. I decided to focus on the feeding station the birds came to most- I’d lose some shots if they chose another perch, but I’d lose in quality if I attempted to shoot after the birds showed up.
- Stack your odds. Success doesn’t just fall into your lap; you need to prepare and lay a path for it. In this case, I refilled the hummingbird feeder with fresh sugar water, and put a vase of red flowers just inside the window to arouse their curiosity.
- Prep. I shot loads of test shots before I got serious down to business. This was mostly to determine how much zoom I could deal with before I started sacrificing quality due to camera shake, but had the unexpected bonus of acclimating the birds to my presence and the sound of the shutter clicking. Figuring out ahead of time what camera settings worked best, as well as what camera angles and orientation, ensured I didn’t waste time tinkering later. I was able to just shoot whenever the birds came into view.
- Make the mental commitment. Tell yourself you will not give up if your first attempts are discouraging; don’t leave yourself an out if you want to quit. It may help to write it down; even this tiny gesture will help you to hold yourself accountable.
- Worry about your comfort and plan your breaks ahead of time. If I had not planned for comfort, I would have quit after ten minutes from the weird position I had to contort myself into to get the best angle. I was able to keep it up for the full hour each day- getting several series of shots each time- by planning ahead, having a pillow for my butt, and something to rest my arm on. Also, knowing I was due for a break soon kept me motivated and willing to sit it out just a bit more.
- Set up a good support system. Normally a good support system would mean friends, family, colleagues; in my situation, it meant a box strategically set up for me to lean on to keep my camera steady. I have no tripod.
- Strive for laser-like focus. Practically speaking, always keep your goals in mind, and when you perform an action, ask yourself, Is this bringing me closer to my dreams? In my case, I kept my focus laser-like by staring through that camera monitor, not daring to look up for a second. I wanted to be able to start shooting as soon as that bird entered the frame. Focus on your goal and only your goal, perform actions that bring you closer to your goal and forego those that don’t; when opportunity presents itself, you will be ready.
- Only one goal at a time. Try not to become distracted. Just after I decided to take hummingbird shots, what shows up but a Pileated Woodpecker. I had committed to this project, though; there will be more woodpeckers.
- Be ever vigilant. Be on the alert for new opportunities. Be ready for them. They tend to show up when you least expect it. Keep your finger on the shutter button.
- Be aware that this fixated focus can mean ridicule from the periphery. For some reason, people like to undermine other people’s earnest endeavors. Learn to shrug it off.
- Acknowledge missed opportunities and wrong choices; learn from them and adjust as necessary, but don’t get hung up on them. The second and third times the hummingbird appeared, it came to the other side of the feeder- invisible to the camera. I was bummed about missing those shots and having to wait another eight minutes, but I didn’t beat myself up too much, and I didn’t decide to change my position; I thought that would undermine my overall effort. (On the other hand, I noticed that the autofocus light startled the birds, so I took advantage of one of my breaks to stick a piece of masking tape over it.)
- Have faith. Why is this so hard for many of us? We rarely believe in ourselves. It was frustrating to see the birds go to another feeder. It was irritating to sit for eight minutes, have the bird show up, and find the camera had focused on a leaf falling nearby. Right away, Iwanted to give up. I had to tell myself to have a little faith. Faith in the decisions I had made. Faith that I was capable of doing this, and that it was going to be worth my time and discomfort. What I had seen the day before said that the birds would come to where I was, and my technique and luck could only get better. I had to be patient.
- When an opportunity does present itself, hit it with everything you’ve got. Do everything you can to optimize any chance you’ve been given. In my case, I started shooting as soon as I spotted a bird and didn’t stop until it was gone.
- Celebrate the small victories. Yay! Hummingbird photos. Children, come see what I did. Don’t feel silly congratulating yourself on your baby steps. My first series was not so great, but they were pictures of hummingbirds, and that was an accomplishment.
- Keep pushing your limits. Really, I could have stopped with my first decent photo; my goal had been satisfied. But I knew I could do better. And eventually I did.
- Know when to stop. I could be taking hummingbird photos today, but I’m not. I could very easily have become obsessed with trying to freeze the wings, to focus on the eyes, to make it a one-in-a-million shot. But I’m not. I’m happy with my accomplishment, small as it is, and I am moving on to another goal. First I’ll take some time off and play with my kids, do a little reading, have a little fun.
I think there are people in this world who are endlessly struggling, striving, working for tomorrow; to the point that they are not living, today.
Maybe they need to stop a while and reevaluate their goals, make new ones.
Life is for living.
Ultimately, this is the lesson I learned. Goals and dreams are wonderful. They entice us to reach beyond ourselves, to stretch our capabilities, to create, to make better. But we need to always remember that the purpose of life is to live it.
Be content with this time and dwell in this order and then neither sorrow nor joy can touch you.
Hey, thanks for indulging me on Hummingbird Day.
I think I’ve got it out of my system!