HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Started Jun 24, 2006 | Discussions thread
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Keith Rankin Veteran Member • Posts: 3,400
HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Hummingbird photography is addictive!!! Stimulates your creativity, not only challenges you but takes you to great places, and hopefully rewards you with some great pics of these little gems. Almost everyone likes Hummingbirds. They're so small and fast moving, it's hard to get a good look at them. When you show pictures of hummingbirds, people are impressed, because they can see all of the wonderful details. Details like the iridescent feathers, the long sharp claws, and the tiny black eyelashes become more visible than when they are buzzing by the yard, showing flashes of color and character.

I get asked lots of questions on how I set up, I thought it would be best to try and compile all the info together so others may have reference to it. Right, wrong or indifferent this is how I set up.

So what does it take to capture a hummingbird in flight in detail? First and foremost HUMMINGBIRDS, LOL, mainly patience, and a little setup which I will use pictures to better explain and lastly feeders to attract them.

GEAR- any camera, lenses will depend on the working distance your birds will allow you, norm 8-10 ft, normally anywhere from 200-400mm. Dont need fast glass, ie. f2.8 as you are stopping down your glass from f-8 to f13 depending on exposure. I use my 300mm + 1.4TC on a tripod with gimbal head (wimberly sidekick). If you ever try one for birding, you will never go back :).

Flashes- Hummingbirds wings can beat up to 80 times per second, this produces their signature hum. To the naked eye and you camera—the wings are just a blur. One of the first questions I'm asked is what shutter speed I use to stop this super-fast movement. The real answer is that the motion is frozen with high speed electronic flash, not by a fast shutter speed on the camera.

You can photograph hummingbirds with a single flash mounted on your camera. But for great results I find using multiple flashes mounted off the camera. As to how many should you use? That depends on your style and resources. Three or four is a good starting number. I sometimes use five or six because, as you'll see, you usually need separate strobes on the background. The good news is that you can use dependable but fairly inexpensive speedlights with no special features except built in slaves. (my favourite is the Nikon sb-26's) One can buy 3-4 of these for the price of a sb-800. awesome flash! Power output set manually is normally set between 1/16th 1/32 range. Multiple flashes will provide more even light and makes up for the lower output. The lower output means shorter flash duration that freezes the action. The flashes will have to be very close about two to three feet from the feeder you can fine tune there output by then moving them closer or further away in order to get the proper exposure. Camera is as well set to manual, 1/250th of a second and f stop between f8-f13 depending on exposure. Some times I will use a light meter to meter the flash, but I get lazy and just use the histogram most of the time.

Depending on how bright it is outside, one usually needs to use a flash to light up the background otherwise your backgrounds are black as your flash is brighter than the ambient light, hence why you would want to use a flash to light up your background, foamcore, or hanging baskets. I usually use the latter as I can change them in and out to give me more interesting backgrounds.

Here are some important tips and behaviors..........I use auto focus since it helps locking focus quicker, I will usually pre-focus on the center of the feeder so there only has to be slight focus adjustments. Once they have found a feeder you can move it around since they know it was there and if they don't find it in the exact same spot they will start looking for it. I have on many occassions removed their normal feeder only to replace it with a single spout feeder and put their regular feeder under the table on the deck, it didn't take long and they where standing on the deck under the table feeding out of the feeder. Best time to take the picture is let them come in and feed, and they always pull out 4-7 inches and hover, click click and they go back in to feed. So only when they pull out. The flash does not bother them, but they the shutter noise gets there attn, my D2x is not exactly quiet!

What kind of feeder, well they seem to like those bright red feeders with the four flowers and the little perches but there not very good for picture taking as they will sit on the perches and you won't get much of an opportunity for pictures. I remove the perches but then you will find they always use the spout that is farthest from you so next you can remove all the spouts except one and then tape them over so they won't use them

and you will always know where they will be They catch on very quickly so no worries. If I am looking for a natural perch shot, i will take a natural stick under the feeder as you will always have a dominant hummer protecting his feeder and loves to sit close to chase the others away.

Okay Im boring you to death, but those of you who want to seriously give it a go, you will have success! I hope this helps. I guess pictures would help now to see my actual set up......taken with my good ol nikon 2 mega pixel point and shoot. LOL.......



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So once your set up, just get your little birdies to start posing for you

and voila. If I did not explain myself well or have further questions, just let me know. Hope someone found this helpful.

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