HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Started Jun 24, 2006 | Discussions
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.......



View of Background

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.

Kingnitro Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Let me guess.......4000 Shutter speed??????

Zewt Regular Member • Posts: 437
re-read the article.

You need to read the post, he explains what role and setting shutter speed carry.

And it's all about the flashes in these photo's.

Jon H Regular Member • Posts: 447
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Hi Keith,

I've not had time to read your article yet, but thanks in advance for posting it! I've admired and been inspired by your hummer photos for some time now... I can't think of any better I've seen ANYWHERE!

Look forward to reading your post in detail and trying it out for myself soon!

Kind Regards,

Jon H.
Southern California, USA
Favorite hummingbird photos:
Growing pbase gallery at:

RecalcitrantRon Veteran Member • Posts: 4,844
thanks for all the details Keith (nt)
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Just my nickels worth.
Happy Snappin'!

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pbase supporter
D Seventy

Sascha Gast Contributing Member • Posts: 664
Re: thanks for all the details Keith (nt)

Now that is what I neede, great explanation of your setup. I left the perches in the past, that'll change now. very cool

'I really don't care if you think your gear is better than mine', my girlfriend is really hot...........

lovEU Veteran Member • Posts: 3,135
Re: thanks for all the details Keith (nt)

Keith, thank you yery much, your explanation is really very cool! And such nice models

One stupid question left due to my Enlish skills - is there any difference between a "flash" and a "speedlight"? Any intention to point out something by using both the terms?
regards, eric

photoforfun Veteran Member • Posts: 6,084
Thanks but I still have a problem...

Thanks for sharing your technical findings and congratulations for the pics, but I still have a problem... there are no Hummingbirds where I live...
Kindest regards to everybody, whatever camera you own.
Stany Buyle
Photography is a marvellous hobby which I enjoy, not to compete...

Kodiak Contributing Member • Posts: 562
You lucky dog, you must live...

west of the Mississippi. Here on the east coast we only get the Ruby Throated Hummer. Beautiful little bird, but alas no variety. Wonderful shots and an excellent write up. Thank you for taking the time to explain your set up so well.

MikeBerube Senior Member • Posts: 1,664
Awesome Keith, Thanks...

That was very helpful. to get:

  • Feeder

  • extra speedlights (only have 1)

  • lightstands

  • etc.

Been meaning to do this for years.

Mike Berube

  • It's all about the pictures -

(PBase Supporter)

Fred Braun Regular Member • Posts: 362
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Thanks for the info. Sweet setup, I only wish I had it in the budget.

Kind Regards

AZSheldon Contributing Member • Posts: 527
I was hoping to see something like this...

Thank you Keith, I was hoping to see something like this after my post yesterday...

...and now I see I need 2 more D200's, 3 more SB-800's, some more stands and cords, and hmmmm more toys, so I have something to justify with my wife, ha ha...

Don't forget, hummingbirds, too!

Actually, this is excellent information. Thanks.


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 AZSheldon's gear list:AZSheldon's gear list
Nikon D610 Nikon AF Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S
photokm Forum Member • Posts: 73
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Thanks a lot Keith.


 photokm's gear list:photokm's gear list
Nikon D4
Blkmagikca Regular Member • Posts: 169
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Thank you for an excellent description on how you photograph hummingbirds. Well thought out, well described - almost makes it look easy; but having photographed birds, I know it's not. The key word here is perseverence!

Nikon D200, 24-120VR, Micro-60, Micro-55, 70-300ED, SB-600, SB-21
Panasonic FX-9

Kingnitro Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

My Mother's house has had a HB feeder for years, and it's amazing how you actually recognize those Birds over time. Who's the Dominent male, who he will allow to feed in his territory, etc.....

OP Keith Rankin Veteran Member • Posts: 3,400
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

It takes anywhere from 1/5000 to 1/20,000 of a second to totally freeze these little gems hence why one needs flash to do it as cameras dont have that capability

Kingnitro wrote:

Let me guess.......4000 Shutter speed??????

Kerry Pierce
Kerry Pierce Forum Pro • Posts: 19,757
excellent post, Keith.

I always enjoy your shots. Your description of the effort involved makes it that much more easy to appreciate the results.

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my gallery of so-so photos

 Kerry Pierce's gear list:Kerry Pierce's gear list
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D Nikon AF Nikkor 105mm f/2D DC Nikon AF Nikkor 135mm f/2D DC +17 more
mtwo Regular Member • Posts: 480
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

I agree with the addictive part. Once you make the first attempt you just have to keep trying. What becomes clear now is the amount of set-up and forethought which go into dealing with a rather complicated little critter. I felt pretty good about getting them on the little feeder perches and the occasional flight shot till I saw what you were achieving.

It is obvious that like a lot of other apparently simple tasks this is really not. It is something to work on, but you don't need it all at once. One strobe will do for starters but a bit of reach is obviously essential. Thanks for the detailed description. We are going through lots of sugar here this summer so hummer opportunities abound but so do the mosquito guys at the best time of day. Always something. John

 mtwo's gear list:mtwo's gear list
Nikon D750 Nikon D7200 Fujifilm X-Pro2 Fujifilm X-T2 Nikon Z6 +12 more
OP Keith Rankin Veteran Member • Posts: 3,400
Re: HOW TO SET UP- Hummingbird photography

Your too kind Jon, but thanks for the kind comments........if I can be of any further help, dont be shy. I look forward to seeing you results

OP Keith Rankin Veteran Member • Posts: 3,400
Re: thanks for all the details Keith (nt)

Cool look forward to seeing how you make out

Sascha Gast wrote:

Now that is what I neede, great explanation of your setup. I left
the perches in the past, that'll change now. very cool
excited to try it out over the weekend

'I really don't care if you think your gear is better than mine',
my girlfriend is really hot...........

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