Remote Photography…..

My previous post mentions (shouts, actually) about my upcoming workshop on Remote Photography, to be held at the Thousand Oaks Library at 6.30pm, November 8th. Yet this blog is supposedly here to support my hummingbird photography workshops? Well, over the last couple of weeks, I decided to experiment by mixing both domains…….

If I say so myself, I am pretty good at photographing hummingbirds. I would even go so far as to say I am better than most. Not all, for sure, but most? Probably. Been doing it a long time, and made lots of mistakes on the way. Sometimes I even learned from those mistakes. Sadly not always, but sometimes. Fortunately, my students glean the benefits of that ‘experience’ and can short-cut their way to great images quickly. But I digress – the point of this preamble is to establish that my success as a hummingbird photographer has relied a lot on my being there – focusing, moving the camera, and firing the shutter at just the right time. That of course is what sorts the men out from the boys – the ‘fresh air’ shots (frames where the bird has long since departed), the shots with no head, no tail, no wingtips. I have taken thousands of those, but fewer and fewer the more practice I have. My students tend to ‘get in the zone’ far quicker than I ever did, but I don’t let on….

Well, I have done a lot of remote photography of other birds in the past, very successfully. Orioles landing, finches at a nest, tufted titmice at a birdbox, nesting chickadees in a decaying tree.  [See some examples below – click on an image to enlarge]


But I never tried it with hummingbirds…..

Until now. I procured a Cognisys Inc. StopShot – a remote triggering system that is second to none on the market today. This unit controls your camera and flash automatically, firing the shutter and flash if an ‘event’ occurs. That event can be a noise being made (like a champagne cork), a vibration (such as a bird landing on a feeder) or a beam being broken (as a bird flies through an invisible beam on its way to a feeder). Or, you can cross two laser beams, such that if a bird flies across this intersection then and only then will the camera fire. If you prefocus on the location of that beam intersection, then when something breaks it – Bingo! it takes its own photograph.

Well, the results are astonishing. Yes, there are many of the fresh air, wingtip, butt shots, but a high ratio of keepers too. And you don’t have to be there!!!!

Female Anna's and Rufous or Allen's Hummingbirds sparring - taken with Cognisys Inc. StopShot Crossbeam laser trigger and Fotronix StopLight SL-80 flash © Roy Dunn 2010

Female Anna's Hummingbird in interesting pose - taken with Cognisys Inc. StopShot Crossbeam laser trigger and Fotronix StopLight SL-80 flash © Roy Dunn 2010

Female Rufous or Allen's Hummingbird - taken with Cognisys Inc. StopShot Crossbeam laser trigger and Fotronix StopLight SL-80 flash © Roy Dunn 2010


The StopShot is available at – it comes with many sensor options, can control valves for the ever-expanding field of droplet photography and is far and away the best remote system I have used. And for the record, I have used many systems, including: Mazof VisII*, Dalebeam*, Shutterbeam by Woods Electronics, WaveSensor (Wave Sensor?) by LPA Designs*, Trailmaster, Time Machine and several designs of my own through the years. I haven’t ever used a Kapture Group system, but they are so insanely expensive for their very limited capability that ain’t never gonna happen anyway. I haven’t used Bill Forbes’ PhotoTrap in earnest either, but I know Bill, and have played with it a little. I have a couple of colleagues who use it often though. It is a good system, but nowhere near as flexible as the StopShot.  (* means no longer available)

Plus, the folks at Cognisys are just really, really nice people to deal with. So much so, that I will be going into business with them to develop a next generation high speed flash system. Yes people, you heard it here first. There will be some new high speed flash units available some time in 2011, and they are going to be perfect for shooting hummingbirds. You thought the Fotronix StopLight SL-80 units were good? (I did – I produced them) These will blow the SL-80’s out of the water. We will probably show them first at the NANPA Summit in Texas in March 2011, but you will get updates here first as things develop. Oh, and I guess the website will probably be a good place to check too.

So if you are in the market for a brilliant remote control system for all types of photographic applications, make your way to Cognisys to pick up a StopShot. They are fantastic. If you mention my name when ordering, who knows? You might even get a discount….

As an aside, those who know me also know my main photographic passion is bugs, particularly spiders. Well the Cognisys folks have something for that too – the StackShot. Automatic focus stacking implementation for essentially infinite depth of field of macro subjects. Incredible, awesome, scarily easy to drive, and produces just amazing results.

If you think I am excited by all this, you don’t even know half of it 🙂


About Roy Dunn

Electronic Engineer, High Tech Marketing Consultant, Nature Photographer, Musician, Tinkerer, Nerd and the luckiest guy alive.
This entry was posted in Gear, Latest, Techniques. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Remote Photography…..

  1. Melani says:

    Do you ever have problems with the laser in one of these remote triggers moving out of alignment with the sensor?

  2. Roy Dunn says:

    Yes I have, and it can cost a lot of frames. The laser and sensor both need to be mounted to very stable, solid structures. Attention to detail is of paramount importance when creating remote triggering setups – if one little thing goes wrong, the whole thing fails and time is wasted. Each setup usually takes me several hours to get ‘just right’ before I leave it.

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