Hummingbird Photography Tips for Beginners
Hummingbird in Flight
How to Take Pictures of Hummingbirds
I love to watch hummingbirds! They are amazing little creatures. They are the only bird that can fly backwards and they can hover like a little mini helicopter! They have beautiful iridescent colors and their wings can flap between 15 and 200 times per second! Did you know that some hummingbirds can fly up to 71 miles per hour! Photographing these little speeders can be quite a challenge! Here are a few tips and tricks for taking pictures of hummingbirds.
Hummingbird on the Ground
Know Your Subject
First you are going to have to know where the hummingbirds are! If you have flower beds in your yard, you probably have hummingbirds. Watch to see which flowers they tend to go to. Put up a hummingbird feeder near a window of your home. You should get lots of hummingbirds to your feeder. Watch to see what time of day they usually show up. Normally they will visit your flowers early in the morning or late in the afternoon as the temperature begins to cool off. If you have a hummingbird feeder, they will probably visit it all day long.
I personally use a zoom lens for my hummingbird photography, which gives me more flexibility and lets me zoom in to get much closer pictures of the little birds. Using a zoom lens or not, I would recommend also using a tripod. You don't necessarily want to "lock in" your ball head. Keep it some what loose so you may be able to follow the hummingbirds flight, at least somewhat. If you are not using a tripod and have an image stabilizer on your lens be sure it is turned on. Have your camera already focused on the area you think the hummingbirds will visit, such as a particular flower. If you are trying to photograph one as it hovers near your the feeder, it will be hard to pre-focus on anything buy the feeder. Have your camera on auto focus and it will focus for you quickly. I will go into focus a little more in detail in just a minute.
Now you will have to be a little patient. If you have a hummingbird feeder you may not have to be patient for long. I usually have between 5 to 10 hummingbirds at my feeder at one time. When you first go out, realize that you will scare them away, but just for a bit. I have found that once I get very still for just a few minutes, the hummingbirds will come right back. The same is true if you have found the place the hummingbirds like for sipping on your flowers. Set up your tripod, be very still and wait. They usually won't stay away for long.
Hummingbirds have such beautiful iridescent colors. Your best pictures are going to be those taken in full sun so you can capture these beautiful colors. Depending on the time of day, you may have some shadow issues. You want to have the flower or feeder in full sun if possible. Shoot from which ever side you need to in order to get the sun on their beautiful feathers. Using a flash will help to freeze their wings, if you are lucky enough to catch one in flight. Your flash will put some light on them, but I still prefer to photograph them in full sun. Full sun is really going to help you get such better detail.
You will want to use the auto-focus setting on your camera. This allows the camera to re-focus, as your subject is moving. Using the auto-focus feature will allow you to keep the hummingbird in sharp focus as it speeds through the air. It will also be important to use the center AF point on your camera and keep that point on the hummingbird as much as possible. As fast as they are, you are going to have to have a little luck. Personally, I usually don't try to zoom in too close as the hummingbirds are too hard to follow with the camera. Zoom out a little so you can keep them in sight and crop the pictures after you get them home.
You will have to use a high shutter speed, somewhere around 1/800 and a high ISO, at least 400 or higher. If you go too high, above 800, you are going to get too much “noise” and your picture will be grainy. If you want to freeze the motion of their wings you are going to need to use an external flash. A hot shoe flash is a good idea. They are not very expensive and as a beginner, you don’t want to make this any more complicated that necessary. I really prefer a little blur of their wings myself, to show some motion.
Take Lots of Pictures
Now you are going to need a little patience and a lot of luck, yes luck! These little birds move so fast, you are going to need to take a lot of pictures to get a few good shots. I have taken over 100 pictures to get 2 or three good shots. Set your camera to take pictures in a burst. You can set it to take 4-5 pictures per burst. The more pictures you take, the better the chances are that you will get a few good shots.
Hummingbirds are beautiful, amazing little birds. The challenge of photographing hummingbirds is well worth it once you get that one shot that just says “Wow”! Remember to take lots of pictures and keep you camera as steady as possible. You may not get a lot of success your first time. Just keep on trying, the more pictures you take, the better your chances of getting that “Wow” shot!
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