Tag: birds

Hummingbird at feeder

Photographing Hummingbirds

If you have hummingbirds around your garden, you should set yourself a project to photograph them. It’s surprisingly easy. In fact, hummingbirds may be the easiest of all birds to photograph. Interested? Read on…

Maybe you don’t have hummingbirds around, but are they in your neighbourhood? Check with the gardener in your neighbourhood. There’s always someone on the block who spends a little more time planting colourful flowers – they’ll know if there are ‘hummers’ around. If there are, you’re in luck!

It’s too late in the season to plant hummingbird-friendly flowers (do that next year!), so start by setting up a hummingbird feeder. They are inexpensive and easy to maintain. We bought ours at Wild Birds Unlimited who have very helpful information about attracting hummers’ and looking after your feeder. As far as nectar goes, you can buy the commercial nectar, but really a 1:4 sugar-to-water mixture is fine (even Audubon recommends it). That’s 1 cup refined white sugar in 4 cups of tap water. The water does not need to be boiled or boiling as sugar dissolves in room temperature water. Mix it up and store it in the fridge because you want to change it every few days, especially when it’s hot out. And remember – do not use food colouring! It is not necessary and could be harmful.

You’ll need to find a way to suspend your hummingbird feeder. At my parents’ cottage, dad simply screwed a cup hook to the underside of the deck railing and the hummers’ come by the whole time we are out there. We can’t do that in our back garden, so we purchased a ‘shepherd’s hook’ from Wild Birds Unlimited to hang our feeder. Note: WBU also offers a window feeder.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male (Archilochus colubris)With your hummingbird feeder hung, all you need now is a bit of patience as there’s no guarantee they’ll come. In past years, we’ve had great success, but this year not so much. We saw hummers at our flowers early in the summer, so put out the feeder and we’ve not seen them since. Go figure! So, why am I telling you this discouraging news? Well, it’s important to be reminded that nature can be fickle!

While waiting for the hummers to show up, you can be getting your gear ready. You can shoot hummers with just about any lens of 200mm or longer. That would mean something longer than the average “kit” lens that may have come with your DSLR (typically a 14-42mm, 18-55mm, 16-80mm, or 24-120mm). If you’re shooting 4/3s then you’ll need at least a 100mm; 140mm or longer for APS and 200mm or longer for full-frame. You may have success with a point-and-shoot with longer lens, but the problem then becomes shutter delay – the delay between pushing the shutter release and the camera activating the shutter. With more professional ‘bridge’ cameras (Sony RX-10iii and iv or the Panasonic FX1000 or 2500), you will not have that problem. This is the time to test things out to ensure they work for you.

Hummingbirds will tolerate you getting fairly close (2 to 3 metres, sometimes closer) as long as you are not moving. I typically sit in a deck chair to photograph them, but they don’t like me raising the camera to my eye. Either I set the camera up on a tripod or I hand hold my rig with my arm resting on the armrest of the chair.

Don’t try to fill the frame with the hummingbird as that will give you less tolerance for catching quick movements. What I’ve found is that hummingbirds will often pause and hover just off the feeder before going in to sip. Often they will rest on the feeder while drinking, then back off, hover and go. I try to capture them when they are hovering, I pre-focus on the “rest” or on the edge of the feeder.

I also carefully watch where in the frame the hummingbird is typically positioned then set my focus point for that location. There is less ‘hunting’ so focus is acquired instantly. Note: I also use back focus, having set the focussing to the AE-L/AF-L button where my thumb is, pre-focussing then shooting. This can be tricky without the hummingbird there, but consider the first few visits to the feeder as chances to set focus as the hummers are very predictable in how they return to the feeding port. Photos look more natural without the feeder, though you may want a few with the feeder to show your friends.

Some may deem this to be unacceptable, but one trick is to cover the ports with cling film except for the port you want the hummingbird to feed at. This will allow for many more successful shooting opportunities in the same amount of time.

If you are photographing hummers at flowers, then you’re patience quota will need to be raised considerably as you will never know which flower the hummer will go to next. This will mean fairly rapid re-framing and focussing each time a hummingbird comes by.

Typically, hummingbirds will visit your feeder quite regularly – possibly every 5 to 10 minutes. Early in the season they are feeding their young. Once the young fledge, you will have both adults and juveniles at the feeder. So, over the space of an hour, you should have plenty of opportunities to capture that ideal pose. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out the first time. Analyse what you did capture and make adjustments. Were you too close? Too far? Did you have difficulties focussing? Composing? Was your shutter speed too slow or did you not have enough depth of field?

As is always the case with photography, there is a technical side, which is often at odds with what we want. With my set-up, I aim to have a shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/500 at, ideally, f/11, with an ISO no higher than 400 on the APS camera and 800 on the full-frame, to avoid too much ‘grain’ from pixels. 1/250 to 1/500 freezes the body of a hovering hummer, but gives the wings some motion; f/11 provides the necessary depth of field for this kind of magnification (f/16 would be even better). A smaller aperture of f/22 soften the image due to defraction and make the background too busy.

Setting exposure may take a few trial-and-error shots, particularly if the bird is sunlit with a darker background. Check for blinking highlights and the histogram then use exposure compensation to reduce those highlights.

What about flash? Yes, by all means try it. I have used flash, but find the birds look unrealistically static. There is also the difficulty of balancing the exposure of the flashlit hummer with the background. There are many photos of hummingbirds with a black backgrounds, but they look unrealistic and lack depth.

The few times I have used flash, I’ve set my exposure using the background then applied –1 exposure compensation to mute it. Then I’ve set up the flash also with a –1 setting to tone down the highlights. BUT – the lighting considerations are different in each case and your rig will differ from mine, so I encourage you to experiment. The other recommendation is to get the flash off-camera to provide some directional side lighting, something that I am not an expert on, so I will defer to photographers like Nate Chappell.

At times, you will see aerial acrobatics and aerial ‘dogfights’ between competing males. This is not unusual and can be quite exciting to watch. Good luck photographing it, though Nate Chappell has had some great successes. Check out his photos.

So, give it try! If you’re successful, add a comment below and email me photo to add to this post. You could also ‘Buy Me a Coffee‘ using this link or the handy Ko-Fi link to the right.

Happy summer!

Helpful Links:

Lumix FZ1000 in print

I am thrilled to be shooting with the Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 camera. Its features are quite remarkable:

  • 25-400mm (equivalent) Leica ƒ2.8-4 lens
  • 20mp 1″ sensor
  • Hull HD and 4K video
  • lots of customization for shooting both raw and jpegs

Winter SquallI’m impressed, too – impressed enough to have purchased one for travel photography. Lately, I’ve been putting it through its paces, really trying to push it to the limits. Of course, the limits I’m comparing it with are those of my full-frame D800E and associated optics.

So why bother with a “bridge” camera when I’m using a D800E? It all comes down to travel. I wanted something I could take with me “where ever” I go. I know I can do that with the D800E, but if I want anything beyond normal, I’m stuck carrying extra lenses with me, and full-frame zoom lenses aren’t exactly lightweight! What about prime lenses? True, they are lighter, but then I’m changing lenses more frequently than I prefer to. I want something I can pick up and head out shooting with that will give me decent quality raw photos for printing and decent-quality family snapshots for jpegs for sharing. Something I can walk around and hand-hold without compromising too much quality. I would still use my D800E for my fine art work where time allows me to slow down and use a a tripod. But it just seems to be overkill for many of the travel-type grab shots I also enjoy making – photos that will rarely see the inside of a printer, so to speak.

Winter Morning, Bark LakeNeedless to say it’s an unfair comparison, given the D800E’s state-of-the-art 36mp sensor with class-leading dynamic range, but still, I’m impressed by what the FZ1000 can do. So impressed, that it was the only camera I took with me on my annual sojourn into a Canadian winter up at Bark Lake Leadership Centre with our Grade 10s for their 6-day field course.

I made a number of jpeg images of the students skiing, building fires, augering down through the ice to collect lake water samples – those images are nothing short of fantastic. The flash did an amazing job of filling in shadows on sunny days and indoors. Actually the light from the flash is better than I get from the D800E’s pop-up flash – less contrasty and better balanced. ISOs up to 800 were perfectly fine for web and print media (e.g. 300dpi for yearbook).

FZ1000-100%Since returning, I have also taken some basketball photos at ISO3200. Not as clean and crisp as the D800E w/ ƒ2.8 70-200mm zoom, but certainly printable for web and yearbook (just). Even the team photos I took at ISO400 and 800 in the gym with the pop-up flash were plenty good enough once processed through Lightroom.

While up at Bark Lake, I made some fine art photos as well, shooting in raw at the base ISO of 125. They are terrific, indeed – quality enough for printing this past weekend as 10.5 x15″. They would even stand up well as full 13×19″ prints. And, since that’s the title of this post, here they are.

I’be also included a 100% screen capture of part of the upper pholograph. In all fairness, there is a fair amount of snow flying around that appears, in the 100% crop, to be dust, but it isn’t!

_1030085And, lastly, here is a female cardinal shot at ƒ5.6 400mm (equivalent) at ISO125. By the way, this was shot through our kitchen window. It is a 1200×1800 pixel crop from the full 5472×3648 frame. Not bad at all!