Introducing the Growing Up Humming PDF e-Book

My new book, Growing Up Humming, is now available as a PDF e-Book. You can purchase it for the introductory price of only $3, from the order form below. Buy it now, and you could be reading it tonight. You can also read about the book, and see sample pictures from it, beneath the order form.


Growing Up Humming is the photo-illustrated true story of two Anna’s hummingbird chicks growing up on the nest. It has a heart-warming real-life plot, along with rich description – both in words and photos – of every step of the chicks’ development. It’s packed with nature’s splendor, and information which will delight and inform people of any age.

Here are a couple examples of the pictures.

Anna’s Hummingbird Mother Feeding 16 Day Old Chick ©Mike Spinak




























© Mike Spinak (831) 325-6917

Growing Up Humming is for everyone who loves beauty and loves to learn about the world, everyone who wants a fun read, and for everyone who wants their kids to be inspired by nature and excited about science.


Here’s what people have been saying about the book:

“…The book is charming and very informative. I would be enthralled if I were a young girl and I’d probably memorize it and go around spouting all the facts to my friends.”

“I fell in love with Little Sister and the section on her. The multi-image collage showing her getting ready is brilliant!”

“You capture the special nature of this process so beautifully and that is not easy to do… I am so impressed with the thought that went into it, the clarity and the story line.  It kept my attention from start to finish.”

I tremendously appreciate what you’ve accomplished here. “

“Yours is so comprehensive and has details I never thought of that make it so much more interesting and more representative of the cycle.  Really excellent.  And, the pictures just shone! Very clear and you got them from the best angle to illustrate the entire process.  Technically superb!”

“Very, very impressive! “-

Lee Daniels, outdoor photographer and writer


 “Mike Spinak has written a charming book that takes us into the seldom seen microcosmic world of a mother hummingbird tending to her two young.”

The photographs are fascinating and beautiful. The words are simple enough to be shared with a young child and will certainly sway them toward a lifetime fascination with nature. (And what could be wrong with that… We need more people who care for and about nature as much as Mike does.)

“My own 13 year old daughter (who I am certain is destined to be the next Jane Goodall) Gave this book two thumbs up and said ‘I wish there were more books like this when I was younger. I hope he creates lots more like this.’”

“This is the kind of book which will fascinate and inspire children and their parents for generations.”

Alan Shapiro, Author, Photographer, Chief Advertising Creative Officer

“Growing Up Humming tells the story of an Anna’s hummingbird and her two chicks as the chicks grow, mature and leave the nest. Mike Spinak’s photographs show all these steps in intimate detail – the mother feeding her young, the chicks learning to stretch their wings, flap, preen, and fly, and the stages of growth as the chicks lose their downy feathers and become young adults.”

“Readers will empathize with the two tiny young birds as they learn to fly and fend for themselves, while the readers gain insights into the intriguing biology of these birds. I didn’t know, for example, that Anna’s hummingbirds eat so many insects – I thought they consumed nectar exclusively. And I hadn’t thought about how hummingbirds in the nest avoid hurting each other with their long beaks!”

“Growing Up Humming is a charming book filled with beautiful, fascinating photographs.”

Michael Frye, Photographer, Author, Teacher


“Growing Up Humming is the story of two hummingbird chicks and their mother as the chicks grow up and eventually leave the nest.  The story is told with beautiful, intimate photographs and detailed and informative text.” 

“It is remarkable in its detail – both photographically and in terms of the information – while following an engaging narrative.  You feel privileged to be a part of this hummingbird family’s life.  It’s written as a children’s book – but really it’s something the entire family will enjoy and learn from.”

Eric Fredine, Photographer


 “It’s such a wonderful book!”

“I found the book to be packed full of fascinating facts, yet it was a quick read. The book contains excellent illustrations, the content is descriptive as well as informative. Photos show a great deal of outstanding detail and complement the content very well. The story of the two growing Anna’s hummingbird chicks is well written … The book will capture the attention of adults and children alike, a great read for the entire family.”

Christina Rollo, Fine Art Nature Photographer


“Growing Up Humming is amazing.”

“I have lived with, fed, and photographed Anna’s hummingbirds in the Los Gatos Mountains for years, but reading Mike’s wonderful book tripled my knowledge about these amazing creatures.”

Ed Sweeney, Software Developer, Photographer


“Growing Up Humming is lovely–a wonderful story and gorgeous pictures.”

Melissa Beagle, M.D.


“This is great!! Fantastic work.”

Gabriela Zavadilová, Student, Graphic Artist, Photographer


“Growing up Humming is fabulous.  I smiled the big smile all the way through reading it.” -

Giselle Minoli, Author, Jewelry Designer


“Beautiful, detailed pictures and quite informative as well. I really enjoyed watching the little hummingbirds grow up in such an up close and personal way.
I think it’d be great for school too… I could totally see my little one becoming engrossed in the pictures and the story, too.” 

“It was lovely! If I were a school I’d get it. It’s written in a concise but easy to understand way, as well – which is a huge plus.”

Rachael Alexandra, Photographer


“It looks great! The photos are stunning!”

Rob Dweck, Photographer, Author


“The book is fantastic!!!”

Elena E. Giorgi, Photograper

My Top 5 for 2011


This is a quick overview of my 5 favorite pictures for 2011 – with a big qualification: I have a large backlog of pictures from 2011 yet to be processed, reviewed, culled, tagged, filed, etc. So, this is actually just my top 5 of the ones I’ve gone through, so far. There’s a good chance that I’ll find new favorites for 2011 in that backlog.

That said, here are my top 5, presented in chronological order. I hope you enjoy them.

Tucked in (Sleeping California Sea Lion) © Mike Spinak


Garlic Mushrooms Growing on a Tanoak Leaf © Mike Spinak


Northern Elephant Seal Bull Coming Ashore © Mike Spinak


Mount Florence with Thundercloud, Yosemite National Park © Mike Spinak


Anna's Hummingbird Mother Feeding 16 Day Old Chick © Mike Spinak


I look forward to what 2012 brings, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you through my pictures.

Happy New Year!


All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

Posted Pictures, So Far


Here’s an overview of the pictures I’ve shown on Naturography, so far. There will be many more coming, of course – so I’ll update the slideshow, now and then.

Like most of the pictures I show on Naturography, these pictures are available as fine art prints, and also available to license as rights managed stock.

The slideshow may take a few moments to load. Please be patient.

You can pause on a picture by clicking the button in the bottom right corner of the picture. You can view the slideshow full-screen by clicking on the button just left of the pause button. The buttons will appear when you scroll over the slideshow.

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

Sleeping Sea Lions, Set 1


This is the first set of my Sleeping California Sea Lions project. The slideshow may take a few moments to load. Please be patient. If you prefer to view these without a Flash viewer, please go here.

You can pause on a picture by clicking the button in the bottom right corner of the picture. You can view the slideshow full-screen by clicking on the button just left of the pause button. The buttons will appear when you scroll over the slideshow.

Like most of the pictures I show on Naturography, these pictures are available as fine art prints, and also available to license as rights managed stock.


What the Sleeping Sea Lions project is about:

Sea lions, when awake, can often seem like extraordinarily temperamental and unwarrantedly vicious animals toward their peers. They often attack each other for seemingly the slightest infractions; for example, I often see them chomp into each others’ sides, leaving bloody wounds and permanent scars, apparently just to get one to scoot aside so that the other may more easily move past. Seemingly, almost every encounter leads to a baring of fangs, barking and growling, snapping and striking; and they’re covered with scars and open wounds, mostly caused by each other. Their bellicosity seems endless.

Except when they sleep. They all sleep together, and it’s a magical phenomenon to behold. They sleep with anybody and everybody. They press into each other and make a solid carpet, so tight that no ground is visible between them. They pile on top of each other, sometimes 3 or 4 deep. They press their bodies together in the most intimate ways, face to face, or face pressed to anything and everything. They let their bodies be the beds and pillows for each other. They do this regardless of age or sex or relation, including with strangers, and including with those whom they heatedly fought moments ago. They hold each other tenderly, caress each other, cuddle and snuggle and nuzzle each other as close as they can, seemingly relishing close contact without boundaries. They let go of their hostility, let go their grievances, and find peace and comfort, if just for a little while.

In this, I saw a lesson of peace, and drew hope and inspiration that kindness and tenderness toward each other always remains possible, that reconciliation can be achieved under even the most extreme circumstances, that the good still can always out.

I hope you enjoy them. Thank you for looking.

Sleeping California Sea Lions (Zalophus Californianus)

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

Staging Nature Photos

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Nectaring on Arrowhead Groundsel (Senecio triangularis), Yosemite National Park © Mike Spinak

A few weeks ago, Jason Reed asked me for my thoughts about staged nature photos. I told him I’d write an article on my website to answer fully, rather than give a brief, incomplete answer, elsewhere. So here it is.

When I started nature photography, I read a book by Leonard Lee Rue III, called How I Photograph Wildlife and Nature. Among other things in the book, he extensively discussed staging techniques he used, such as getting butterflies too drunk to fly, and placing them in good positions on pretty flowers, cooling snakes in an ice chest until they can’t move, then setting them in dramatic poses and aesthetic locations, and so on.

After reading the book, I came to conclude I’m not keen on staging nature photos. This is for several reasons:

1) To begin with, one of the main reasons I’m a nature photographer is because I want to enjoy experiencing the natural world. The more one stages one’s shot – with baiting, or using captive and trained animals, or building sets and background, etc. – the less it’s nature on its own terms, and thus the less of that experience one gets. In that sense, staging doesn’t sound fun or thrilling, and doesn’t have the same appeal to me as making unstaged photos.

2) When staging with wild creatures, you risk harming the animals, in a number of ways. You may increase the exposure of the animal you’re baiting to predators. For example, I’ve seen Cooper’s hawks hang around feeders for songbirds, waiting for an easy meal. Additionally, the bait used to bring animals in is often “junk food” – less nutritionally complete than the animal needs – such as the sugar water commonly used in hummingbird feeders, rather than the more nutritious wild flower nectars. Baiting animals may also increase their exposure to pathogens, especially in cases like a bird feeder, where many birds feed from the exact same hole, or when bringing bait animals from a different area. Getting animals to come to you by playing recorded animal calls wastes the precious resources which many animals need for their knife-edge subsistence livings, just for the sake of photos. And so on.

3) By staging pictures, you’re likely to get what you’re after. Or, to put it another way: you’re unlikely to get what you’re not after – you’re less likely to be surprised by unusual situations and unusual behaviors. You’ll probably get more consistently good photos, at the expense of fewer superlative photos.

4) Staging photos may come at the expense of some useful natural history information. Staged photos are likely to contain less informative content about natural history, overall, if they involve creating scenes or situations which are simplified versions of the full complexity of nature. Staged photos are also likely to often contain false natural history information – the staged setting or situation is likely to be one that an animal wouldn’t have chosen on its own, and is also likely to include inaccuracies about what an animal eats, how it behaves, etc.

For example, there was a scandal, last year, where José Luis Rodriguez was stripped of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, for staging his winning photo of an Inberian wolf jumping over a farmer’s gate to hunt livestock. One of the tip-offs that the picture is a fake, using a tame, trained wolf, is that the picture shows false behavioral information. A wild wolf on the prowl, as opposed to a trained wolf performing a trick, would have sneaked through the bars of the gate, rather than jump over the gate.


Now, all of the above may sound like a harsh critique. Let me be clear that I’m not completely against people staging nature photos in all circumstances. Simply put, there are some things we would likely never succeed in photographing without staging to a high degree. Stephen Dalton is a master of staging nature photos to get pictures of things we’d never see otherwise, such as this. There’s obviously value in getting such pictures. I do think one should weigh the risks to the subjects against the potential informative value, and minimize the staging of nature pictures when the likelihood is small of the pictures conveying significant information.

It did bother me when Darrel Gulin, as the President of the North American Nature Photography Association, discussed gluing hundreds of dead butterflies to a bush to make unique photos – because I felt like that diverges too far from the nature in nature photography, and because the message was coming from someone in an influential position, who represents the nature photography community.

Nonetheless, I’m not categorically against staged nature photos. I am against passing off highly staged pictures as unstaged pictures, but I’m not fundamentally against staging nature pictures when that’s the only way to get certain photos with significant informative value. If you’re going to stage photos, then (1) be educated enough to avoid conveying false natural history information; (2) weigh the risks to the subjects versus the benefits of the pictures; (3) be educated and careful enough to minimize risks to your subjects; (4) be honest that the pictures are captive animals, or were baited, or in a birdbath, or whatever.

Do those, and you can make staging a valuable part of nature photography.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Nectaring on Arrowhead Groundsel (Senecio triangularis), Yosemite National Park, California

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

  • Patty Bitterman - Mike, this may be my favorite of your articles because I could totally relate to the subject. I have had opportunity of taking photos of captive and even dead animals such as a butterfly to stage a photo, somehow no matter how well the photos turned out, the feeling of accomplishment was completely absent and was as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. Thank you for this excellent insightful review.ReplyCancel

  • Alan Majchrowicz - Good article, I completely agree with you. I don’t photograph any of these subjects but I can imagine how tempting it would be to stage them.ReplyCancel

  • Cindy Bendush - I am in TOTAL agreement with you on this subject Mike. I was told that I could have perfect butterfly pictures if I put the poor creatures in the frig overnight then put them on a dewy leaf in the morning. This just seems wrong in my opinion Doing something to any creature that is unnatural or potentionally harmful is just not something I’m willing to do for the sake of a photograph. Its not worth it. Gluing butteflies to a bush? First of all – your’re right, there is no nature here. Secondly, were does one obtain all of these dead butterflies? Evidently, some people take their photography a bit too far, losing respect for the very nature that nature enthusiasts respect.ReplyCancel

  • Len Wilcox - I think you are describing the difference between documentary photography and creative art photography. There’s a lot of both in each of us, but I think we tend to fall on one side or the other. I know I do – I’m a journalist. While I respect the artistry and technical expertise of the beautiful artwork many of us do, my desire is to photograph what someone would see if they went where I was at. I want to honestly document the world as it is (for me). So staging nature photos would not be an option.ReplyCancel

  • Rolf Hicker - First of all – great article Mike. Thanks for sharing, that was a lot of work.
    I’m very proud to say that in my 25+ years as a nature,wildlife and travel photographer I never staged a wildlife shot, unless a bird feeder would be considered staging.

    I’m not surprised that some well known wildlife photographers are using what ever it needs to get the shot – that is why they became the “top” of wildlife photographers because they had unique pictures – ethics of course out the window.

    It is great to see this discussion coming up because it will open the eyes of some people which think those photographers are the greatest on earth – to me they aren’t.

    Staging it “easy”, yes you will make more money, but in this matter I’m proud to struggle my way through over so many years, not becoming famous for something which I actually need to be ashamed for.

    My ethics are on top of all my work – and I’m very proud of it too!ReplyCancel

  • Cyren - Hi!!! Just came across this amazing site from networked blogs and I couldn’t agree more with what you said about staging nature-shots. They wouldn’t be very ‘natural’ if one staged them now, would it? Besides, drugging butterflies to snap pictures of them prettily placed on wild-flowers would be like getting models drunk to make them more agreeable to photographing nudes… or something.ReplyCancel