Such amazing beauty can be found in tiny marvels all around us – bugs, bees, butterflies, caterpillars, hummingbirds – an almost endless list of small miracles asking us to slow down and really see the details. Really seeing those details is often much easier with the aid of “vision helpers” like microscopes, binoculars, and cameras.
Hummingbirds are a good example of the difference a camera can make. While their fascinating behavior is a treat even to the unaided eye, to really see the marvelous colors and patterns of a hummingbird requires lots of the right kind of light. To paraphrase a Wikipedia explanation: while some hummingbird colors are the result of pigmentation, the feathers of many species have cells with a prism-like structure. Light that hits these cells is broken apart; some wavelengths are reinforced and others are reduced. The resulting colors are intense and vivid, but, unlike pigmented colors, can be seen only when the light hits the feathers at precisely the right angle.
In my recent trip to Arizona (the one where we photographed the bats), I had the opportunity to make use of a wonderful setup for capturing hummingbirds with just the right lighting. Wow! The little Broad-billed male that just seemed a dull green perched on the tree branch is now a brilliant mix of iridescent greens, blues, and reds – and one more tribute to the magic all around us.