Photographing Hummingbirds Feeding From Flowers: Setup and Camera Settings.

Started Feb 27, 2021 | Discussions thread
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drj3 Forum Pro • Posts: 12,325
Photographing Hummingbirds Feeding From Flowers: Setup and Camera Settings.

If you want a relatively easy way to photograph hummingbirds feeding from flowers, start with an open flower which has a large center (capitulum) so the hummingbird will feed at a single location for several seconds. It will be easier if the plants flower stalks extend above the leaves. The Peony-flowered dahlias (like the Bishop of Llandaff) which can be grown in a large flower pot and placed in your best location are ideal. Watch your hummingbird to determine the frequency and time between flower visits so you can arrive before the bird.

Place the plant so that you have a place to stand/sit at an appropriate distance while you photograph the bird. I personally like to stand 10-14 feet from the flower when using the MC20+300mm, so that I can fill the frame with the bird/flower. You can pre-focus on the plant/flower making focus on the bird much faster.

With Olympus cameras with PDAF focusing, use the single large focus point (the small point may not include enough detail to maintain good focus). Any larger focus group will tend to focus on the flower and not the bird.

Use manual exposure with your preferred minimum shutter speed and set a fixed ISO which gives a good exposure for your bird in good light at that shutter speed (be careful not to blow out the highlights/detail of the white feathers). Vary the shutter speed to maintain correct exposure (as the shutter speed drops the wings and lower part of the bird will have increased motion blur, but the head will remain reasonably sharp down to 1/100).

My initial settings on the E-M1s with the MC20+300mm. Pre set shutter speed 1/1000, f8, ISO = 800, Focus limiter – 4-28 feet, CAF, large single focus point, Scanner = Mode 3, C-AF Sensitivity = +2, Mechanical shutter, 10 fps, CAF Priority = ON, S- IS Auto, Image Stabilization = IS Priority,

Use stabilization (S-IS Auto) and set Image Stabilizer to IS priority and you will have more sharp images especially as you drop the shutter speed when illumination decreases. Always use CAF Priority = ON and with Olympus cameras and trust your eyes for focus. Olympus CAF focus confirmation is far too slow for things that move around and the focus may not be confirmed on the moving bird, but the actual focus is extremely fast.

When the bird arrives at the flower, simply place the focus point on the bird and fully press the shutter, pausing very briefly at ½ press for focus and shoot a burst until the bird leaves the flower (with experience you can follow it around to the next blossom or just flying around plants).

You will need multiple, well focused images of the bird in order to obtain images with the wings fully extended above or below the bird. For example, in the first image below, the wings are in approximately the same position in images #2 and #3, but the wings have made 7 to 8 full beats between the two image exposures (average 53 beats per second in normal flight).

The wings will show only moderate blur when extended, but will have significant distortion in other positions. Faster shutter speeds will not prevent this distortion which is caused by the slow readout of the sensor of 1/250 or 1/320 second with the mechanical shutter.

Since you may not see the moving wings in the EVF when the bird is flying, you must try to keep the bird’s position in the frame so that you do not clip the wings or other parts of the bird. You can also change the framing in the burst in an attempt to better frame the bird and flower, but this increases the probability of clipping parts of the bird.

Attached is an typical example of this approach with a 4 second burst (7 fps actual with Image stabilization on the E-M1.3). All 28 uncropped, unprocessed images from the burst are shown in the first two attachments below (Distance 12.7 feet, DOF = .43 inches). The last attachment is the one I chose for PP (#3 image in the sequence).

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