D3 ISO 1600: It's Raining Hummers!

Started Feb 9, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Charles Y. Regular Member • Posts: 255
D3 ISO 1600: It's Raining Hummers!

Well actually it's not... it's raining and then there are hummingbirds. The low pressure system here in So. Cal brings rain & lower temperatures. Lower temperatures means that my hummers are feeding more frequently sometimes once a minute (different birds). The birds have been battling for ownership over my feeder. One particular Anna's Hummingbird is the champion.

I've been using my Phottix N8 remote for the D3. It's made my life (as far as taking pictures of the hummingbirds) a LOT easier. I no longer have to prop the camera on the back of a chair and wait for the birds hours on end giving myself a sore arm and shoulder. The downside is that I leave the focus and the positioning of the camera on Manual and therefore have to "guess" where the bird is going to be. Luckily with the frequency of the birds feeding I am able to adjust with relative accuracy and get enough shots to get a sharp-in-focus image. I'm also using a smaller aperture (F/8 or F/9) so my focus can afford to be slightly off and still be razor sharp.

At the request of my friend I've made some notes. These notes are assuming you've read this thread already. Forgive me if I repeat some of the previous post's points:

1. Colder temps cause your hummers to feed more frequently.

2. Always try to capture your birds at minimum focusing distance. So you have the luxury of cropping later on. I'm shooting with a 70-200mm lens at 190mm. You don't need a 500mm lens to do the job. In fact I've shot with a 85mm f/1.4 before.

3. Your feeder might have 3-4 holes to feed from. This is useless to you, block all but one so you know where the bird will be. I use Scotch tape. Yes this is mean to the birds but good for you. If you feel bad, remove after your session. I don't.

4. I don't like pictures where the bird's bill is in the feeder. So I set the camera for the frame where the bird hovers while resting after taking a sip. This means focusing also for this particular frame.

5. With the Phottix N8 on the camera I am using the wired (sometimes the wireless) remote. The wireless remote does not respond as well to button presses in Continuous low speed shooting mode (aka CL).
6. I leave the focus on manual.

7. I set my Speedlight camera-right as seen in the picture above and set it to Manual at 1/128.

8. I am using an SU-800 controller for off-camera lighting. The angle is so close to the camera that you could simply do on-camera lighting.

9. On this particular day I was shooting ISO1600, 1/250th second, F/8, 190mm. I could have used a lower ISO but at the expense of increasing flash power (decreasing flash recycle times). Also with a lower ISO my background would be darker and I wanted some green bokeh for the frame. I might try for all black background next time...

10. Oh, you'll have to "train" your birds not to mind the flash. Might take 1-2 sessions depending on your patience. They will flinch at first, but the cold weather (So. Cal here) will make them eager to feed.

11. When the bird feeds, get ready. You're waiting for his head to come up so he can "rest" and "eyeball" you to see what you're doing. I have my hand on the remote and when the bird starts to hover above the feeder I pop off 1-2 frames. So there becomes a rhythm like this: feeeeeeeed, hover/shutter release, feeeeeeed, hover/shutter release, etc.

12. I'm looking for the shot where the bird has the wings fully extended back so as to not cover its own body/face etc. Popping off 2 or more frames at Continuous Low increases the probability that the wings are in this position.
13. Between each bird's visit, check your focus and the clarity of the shot.

14. To train them for my presence, sometimes I put my head next to the feeder and make them feed with my head inches away from them. No, they don't like this at all. But they are not only hungry, they are greedy. I do this sometimes to "stir things up" for the one bird that "claims" this feeder for his own. I feel bad for the other birds so by putting my face next to the feeder, I give hungrier birds a chance to feed without being chased away by the "resident" bird.

15. I am picky about which birds to shoot. Females are ugly and colorless. I don't like wasting time on them. Yes I am mean.

16. I used to sit reverse in a chair and prop the camera on the seat back with my left hand and wait for the birds to come. Then I would Auto-focus on them while they were hovering/resting between feeding. This really sucked in comparison to using the Phottix N8. The reason I didn't use a tripod was because without a remote, I had to be behind the camera anyway to activate the shutter so I might as well set the frame manually/dynamically and "move" focus with the bird. Using the Phottix N8 is just easier.
17. Anna's Hummers can be very colorful from certain angles like the following:

18. I haven't figured out how to get the head to glow pink withe a side profile... I'm starting to think it's not possible due to the angle of the feathers on the head.

19. With flash, you're able to "freeze" the wings without using higher shutter speeds. The highest regular sync speed is 1/250th second (not considering FP mode). With regular sunlight I like using a minimum of 1/1600th second to get those wings to stop, plus when they are in the back-most position, there is that fraction of a second when they are no longer moving.

20. Well here's one of the final shots. Minor post-processing and zero noise reduction: ISO1600, 1/250th second, F/8 with flash camera-right. Yes it was raining.

Click for original:


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