Photographer Celebrates Birds and Their Rainbow Wings

Christian Spencer captures the "winged prism" effect.

hummingbird with rainbow on wings

Christian Spencer

Hummingbirds have rainbows on their wings. You can’t see them with your eyes, but it’s a prism effect when they hover with the sun behind them.

Australian artist and photographer Christian Spencer discovered that colorful spectacle while making a nature film about a decade ago. Filmed over four years in the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil, “The Dance of Time” opens with a black jacobin hummingbird fluttering with the sun behind it.

Spencer worked on capturing that natural rainbow, creating the “Winged Prism” photo series. The colorful images are collected in his book, “Birds: Poetry in the Sky” (teNeues Publishing).

Spencer talked to Treehugger about his affinity with nature, the rainbow images, and the time he moved to a sheep farm to paint.

Treehugger: What were your early experiences in nature, growing up in Australia?

Christian Spencer: I was always filled with wonder from nature from an early age and was very lucky to grow up in such a beautiful country like Australia where nature is always very present.

macaw flying

Christian Spencer

You started as a professional painter. What were your subjects and why did you move to an isolated sheep farm to paint?

I actually started when I was a lot younger drawing portraits of old Native American photos of Edward S. Curtis with graphite. The only way I found to create the correct shadowing of the faces was with a type of pointillism. As I naturally moved to using paint I carried that style over into my first paintings being the only way I knew how to create tones and contrast.

When I moved to work and paint in the Flinders Ranges on a sheep station I started developing my own style influenced by Islamic geometry, Maya iconography, and the raw colors of the Australian outback. This farm in particular occasionally took artists in and allowed them to paint and work on the farm. It was like a great university of learning how to observe the natural world that influences my life until today.

How did you become interested in photography?

I only bought my first camera in 2014 but had made three films on nature since 2008. These films on nature went on to win 19 awards in international film festivals. So when I picked up a photographic camera it came very natural, as I had spent years looking through a film camera learning how to frame the subjects and get unique angles. I was inspired in 2014 to try and capture certain things that I had captured in video and transform them into photos. That's when the series "Winged Prism" was created which captures hummingbirds with rainbows in their wings which results from a natural prism effect.

What drew you to focus on birds?

In general I photograph everything including jaguars, pumas and monkeys in Brazil but I had a very large collection of unique bird photos that resulted from many award winning photos I had taken since 2014 in Australia and Brazil. The idea from the publisher was to focus on the artistic vision of birds and luckily I had enough photos to fill a book but it was a great idea and gives the book a poetic theme that runs through it.

What kinds of experiences did you have when you were finding and focusing on your feathered subjects?

There were so many ranging from capturing the majestic blue and yellow macaw fly through the Brazilian cerrado or flocks of thousands of cockatoos in the Australian outback. In general when you find good birds you are usually in very beautiful places whether its enormous salt lakes or pristine rainforests If you love being in nature it is a pleasure just to feel like you are with something wild and beautiful and you can try and capture this small glimpse of the infinite  within the cycles of nature.

Do you have favorite birds, or wildlife, that you like to photograph?

I enjoy photographing anything as long as I can feel as though I am getting a different angle or moment that no one is yet to register. But I have a special place for hummingbirds and they never cease to inspire and amaze me.

flock of birds in trees

Christian Spencer

What do you hope people will take away from your book?

The sheer power of beauty sometimes cannot be expressed in words but only through art. The book has a more artistic approach than most bird photography books and has a beautiful harmonic feeling that flows through the book until the end which will leave a smile on most people's faces and with a sense of awe and wonder.

What would you like to photograph, paint, or film next?

Since a very young age I have been a professional painter and even though I have made successful artistic films and now an entire book with my photographs the artistic expression that I most enjoy is my painting. So I am looking forward to getting back into my painting with more intensity. Also I am looking forward to exhibiting the photographs throughout the world in relation to promoting the book and will be exhibited for three months on the biggest digital facade in Europe which is situated in Paris.

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  1. "Highly Commended Category Birds." Nature Photographer of the Year.