[B]rad Infinitum: Photographing Hummingbirds in Costa Rica

Brad Molnar

Hello everyone, and a special thanks to Chris for inviting me to write about photography.  This article is about photographing hummingbirds at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica.

[Ed. note: Brad, thank YOU!  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing your work for years and am happy to share it.  And I love that you’re taking us through the process of editing and preparing the final image, and I know others will, too.]

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to take a work trip to Central America to help bring our San Jose team up to speed.  I extended my trip by a few days so I would have some time to see parts of the country.

One of the places I was able to visit was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is about 2 hours outside of San Jose.  Among other things at this location is a Hummingbird Garden.  This only the second time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph hummingbirds, the first being wild hummingbirds on Alcatraz, in San Francisco.

I tried to take advantage of the time, and below is a screenshot of the thumbnails from the software Lightroom.

All of my thumbnails from the day
Screenshot of my Lightroom Catalog of the Hummingbird Gardens

These birds move quickly, much quicker than my autofocus was happy with.

Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix
Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix

Although the background is really uninteresting.

However, I would frequently end up with the birds out of focus.

Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus
Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus

Sometimes, the birds would move out of frame giving me a fantastic photo of the feeder.

A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds
A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds

I even ended up with a silhouette.  I still like this photo, even if it is not my favorite from the day.

_DS83126

Eventually, my luck began to change and I started getting photos with birds that were both in focus and out of the shadows.

This one came out nice
This one came out nice

This photo in particular was just sitting on my external drive.  I didn’t realize I had it until I started to prepare photos for this post.

I also caught this colorful fellow.

Purple Hummingbird
Purple Hummingbird

Then, I managed to capture my favorite.

My favorite photo from the day
My favorite photo from the day

This one is really nice.  It has 3 birds, but the 2 on the left are looking at each other.  One of them is a bit out of focus, but that’s fine, you can tell what it is.  The one bird is in perfect focus.  This was a really lucky shot.

Now that I have my favorite, it is time to start to work on it.  I shoot my photos in RAW, which means capturing the photo is really only the beginning.  Generally, there’s at least 30 more minutes of work behind every photo that gets shared.

For this photo, I decided that the best part was on the left, and I decided to crop it to a vertical.

After cropping, it was time to get the colors balanced the way I wanted, turn up the saturation, and balance the brightness to my liking.

The result is this:

Final version of Hummingbirds Picture
Final version of Hummingbirds Picture

And there it is, my finalized version of the photo.  I did turn up the saturation a little more than normal.  This was an item I debated for a while, but in the end, I’m happy with how it turned out.  I also turned up the clarity, which brings out the detail in the bird’s feathers.

-Brad

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