A Hummingbird... and How I Got There

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MarshallG
MarshallG Veteran Member • Posts: 7,539
A Hummingbird... and How I Got There
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A nice person named Centofanti has been asking for photography advice here on DPReview, so I'm creating this to demonstrate the process I went through to arrive at a photo of a hummingbird that I was happy with. While this may seem complicated, it's not, really. I didn't create masks, or use filters, stack or layer images. My only edits, really, were to adjust lighting in the RAW editor and crop, but the difference from the out of camera RAW to the photo you see below is substantial.

Here's the photo I took:

Let's begin with where I took the photo:

This is my home office, where I shot the hummingbird.

This is my home office, although this snapshot was from last fall. My son planted some fuchsias outside, which attract hummingbirds. I was working yesterday morning, and they kept showing up, so I put my Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens on my camera and kept it on my desk, so I could shoot them when they appeared.

It was clear that I'd need telephoto, and I was having some difficulty with exposure and focus. In a lighting condition such as this, the backlighting is very high but only the exposure of the subject matters, because I wanted to use 200mm with a high aperture, like f/2.8, to blur the background anyway. The important exposure lesson: Full Manual Aperture, Shutter and ISO are perfect for a situation like this, because once you dial in your exposure, there's no need to change it. The lighting on the subject isn't changing at all. With Auto-anything, as you move the camera, the exposure value will change, and you don't need that.

As you can see from the photo below, I took about sixty shots. Many of these had horrible exposure and many had horrible focus. Because of the glass and the small subject, even the super-tracking of my 5D Mark IV wasn't perfect, so I used back-button servo (continuous) focus along with manual focus. Manual focus on a hummingbird isn't the easiest thing, but that's what it took for this shot.

The exposure setting I used for the photo I liked was 1/1000 at f/4, and ISO 1,000. The reason for the 1/1000 is, of course, the hummingbirds move very fast. If the bird isn't crisp and sharp, fuggedaboudit! Bird has to be crisp! On the other hand, be careful about ultra-high speeds, like 1/4000 and 1/8000, because if there's no blur in the wings at all, the photo will look artificial. You always want the right amount of motion blur to convey the motion. How do you know? Take fifty shots or so, like I did!

I chose f/4 because I wanted to blur the background, yet focus was very challenging. I probably couldn't have the same result at f/5.6, but the wide-open f/2.8 might not give me enough DoF for the bird itself, much less the challenge of focusing on such a fast-moving subject.

Below you can see the sixty shots I took. This is the thumbnail window of Canon DPPro, which is the RAW editor I use. This is not all the photos I took; I just want you to understand that when you have a fast moving subject, you don't take a snap and go home.

I took over sixty photos of hummingbirds, adjusting exposure, focus, and waiting for the right moment.

Culling through these was pretty easy: Many were way out of exposure, many were out of focus (because focus must be perfect!). The birds were not well visible in others, etc. So I picked out a few, and I'll show you the one I liked the best.

In the RAW editor, I made some basic lighting adjustments, like the auto adjustments. I usually make these edits by eye, and my most common edits are to reduce highlights and push shadows. In this image, I reduced the highlights by 4 stops and left shadows alone. I boosted color saturation by two stops. Then, on the Magenta-Green scale, I pushed Green by four stops, which is quite a lot. The reason was to bring out the green in the bird, which is still fairly subtle. But this also saturated the plant quite a lot. Some people might not like that, and to them I say: "Oh well."

Then I exported as JPEG and brought the photo into Photoshop. But, all I did in Photoshop was crop, quite a lot as you can see.

Here's a JPEG of the unedited, uncropped RAW image, and then the edited RAW. This is to give you some idea of how I used the RAW editor to improve the image. I did scale these down 25%. The first thing you notice is that the background is far better, because I cut the highlights. Boosting the green also made the background, well... greener and less white. The important thing is that I did not overexpose (blow out) the background, so this was possible. If you look more closely, you'll see that the flowers are more vibrant and more green s visible in the bird.

The last thing I did, of course, was to crop the image, because who wants to look at all that background and the plastic basket? If there is one lesson you should take away from this, it is: CROP. When you crop the image, you enlarge the subject. You put your viewer's eye on the subject. You remove distractions. Crop, then crop some more, then crop a little more.

I hope this will be helpful to some of you.

JPEG output from RAW editor without any edits. This is the "out of camera" version.

JPEG output from RAW editor after my edits. Cutting highlight makes the background much more pleasant. As you can see, I went from the DP Pro RAW editor to Photoshop, where all I did was crop and save.

 MarshallG's gear list:MarshallG's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM Canon EF 85mm F1.8 USM Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L II USM Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM +2 more
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