For Gustav Kiburg, Ecuador is paradise. “Did you know that they have more birds per square kilometre than anywhere else?” the Dutch photographer revealed. There are 1,656 different species of bird in the country, but there is one family of birds in particular that Gustav wanted to shoot in Ecuador – Trochilidae, more commonly known as Hummingbirds.
“Ecuador has the most diverse species of hummingbirds in the world,” Gustav says. “They have the most spectacular colours, and the way they hang still in the air with their little wings to reach the flower is fascinating to me.”
In the depths of the humid Ecuadorian rainforest, Gustav relies on proven equipment that won't fail him, and his kit of choice is the Sony Alpha 1 and the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master lens.
Despite shooting in the wild of the rainforest, the technique for photographing birds is much the same as shooting at a nature reserve – namely having a knowledge of the species and having the patience to observe and wait patiently. “I will set the Sony Alpha 1 on a tripod, focus on a particular flower and simply wait. I also try to leave space in the composition, as you can only partially predict where the bird will fly in the frame. And, what’s brilliant about the Alpha 1 is the 50.1-megapixel sensor. It offers me enough resolution to crop the image if I need to.”
The 400mm focal length of the Sony G Master lens provides Gustav with a good balance between magnification and a reasonable working distance between him and his avian subjects. However, for those times when Gustav wants the subject more prominent in the frame, he has the benefit of being able to use the Sony 1.4x Teleconverter with the 400mm lens. This combination provides him with the equivalent of a 560mm focal length lens, and with no discernible loss of image quality.
With the camera, lens and composition set, Gustav waits for a hummingbird to swoop in and hover while it drinks the flower's nectar. Gustav sets his Alpha 1 to Zone Focus with Bird Eye-AF turned on, so the camera only has to tweak the focus of the 400mm lens from the flower when the bird appears.
“I have to be honest, at times, the Sony Alpha 1 feels like I'm cheating. I have friends who use other camera brands and they are always shooting and checking their shots. They laugh at me because I don't bother. With the Alpha 1, I have already seen the shot as I took it with the viewfinder, and I know from experience that the autofocus will have worked perfectly.”
Anyone who has tried photographing birds in flight knows how difficult it is, but the Alpha 1 has several features that help get these incredible shots. For Gustav, one of the most important is the blackout-free viewfinder. This allows him to shoot up to 30fps without blinking or blackout in the viewfinder, which is essential when tracking a bird in flight.
“I usually shoot at 20fps, so I can choose the perfect position of the bird's wings when flying. I keep the shutter speed above 1/1000th sec. to show some movement in the wings. The motion is part of the story.”
One thing that stands out in Gustav's images is the beautiful backgrounds, which are all-natural and created by the FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master lens. Beautiful bokeh is created by setting the 400mm lens to a large aperture, but Gustav rarely shoots with the aperture fully open at f/2.8.
I set the Alpha 1 to Aperture Priority and usually open up the aperture to between f/4 and f/5.6 to increase the depth of field to get the bird's body in focus, but also to keep the background blurred. Then I adjust the ISO manually to achieve a shutter speed of 1/1000th sec. I'm not worried about pushing the sensitivity higher as I know that the quality of the images will still be excellent.”
Many of Gustav's images demonstrate the importance of the composition of every element in the picture. One that stands out is of a Sword Billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) – a bird whose beak is longer than its body. “It looks like a fighter plane,” says Gustav. “I cropped the top and bottom of the image to draw attention to the bird's long beak and the speed as it is flying.”
In this shot, a hummingbird is angled up and drinking from the nectar, yet for Gustav, the bird or the flower alone don’t make the image – it is how the placed leaf at the top of the frame adds balance. “The shot would be completely different without that leaf,” says Gustav.
"Bad weather is colour weather"