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How do you freeze a hummingbird's wings?

Discussion in 'Birds' started by Uncle Frank, Sep 4, 2005.

  1. First let's take a pop quiz :smile:. Which will be the most effective strategy for freezing a hummingbird's wings?

    A. Tight aperture
    B. Fast shutter
    C. Flash
    D. Dry ice

    If you chose A, you should keep shooting in Program Mode for a while.

    If you chose D, sell your camera and enroll in Taxidermy School.

    B is a pretty good guess. You'll need a very fast shutter speed to stop a hummer's wings (< 1/1500 sec.), and you'll have to use flash to illuminate the bird. The problem is, your background will be very badly underexposed, so this approach should only be used if you favor oil on velvet paintings.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    The best results are achieved from relying on C. At maximum power, a typical strobe's light pulse is in the range of 1/1000th of a second long. Even that isn't fast enough to freeze a hummer's wings, which flap at aorund 40 cycles per second. But if you shoot at 1/4 or 1/8 power, the light pulse is much shorter, and will stop the wings. Since a single strobe and low power won't provide very much light, most Hummingbird Hunters use multiple strobes, all set at low power.

    The following image proves the point. I was shooting in the late evening, and wanted to preserve some of the background. I increased ISO, chose as wide an aperture as I dared, and lowered the shutter speed until the background wasn't too badly underexposed. I relied on the SB800 (in GN mode) mounted on-camera, and a slave flash 45 degrees off to the side, set at 1/8th power, to freeze the victim.

    1/125s f/5.6 iso640 at 200.0mm with Flash
    View attachment 14941
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2005
  2. Earlier this week I was trying to do something similar, but with larger subjects - kids running around in the back yard near twilight. At longer focal lengths I have no problem freezing action, but at <= 70mm I couldn't get rid of motion ghosting at the trailed edge.

    This is a great example of making that balance work!

    I have never used GN mode. I will have to read up on it.
  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Hummer photography. You certainly are experienced in that area Frank and your images are excellent.
  4. dbirdsong

    dbirdsong Guest

    I thought it was all of the above

    BTW, great photos Frank.. One of these days I am going to have to try photographing them.
  5. Leigh


    Feb 19, 2005
    E) Let Uncle Frank take these shots for you....
  6. Not nearly as much fun as doing it yourself, Leigh, and sometimes I might give you weird shots like this...

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  7. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Excellent tutorial Frank, and pictures as well. Now, if I can just find the $$ for a second SB-800. :rolleyes: 
  8. My second (and third) flash is an inexpensive ($69) Vivitar df200, which has a built in sensor and triggers off the leading edge of the light pulse from the sb800.
  9. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    So how do you control the light intensity? Do you set the power level just from experience?
  10. The Vivitar DF200 is totally manual, so, yes, it's purely based on experience.
  11. dbirdsong

    dbirdsong Guest

    But if they are firing off the leading edge pulse from the SB800, isn't the light gone by the time the real flash and exposure happens?
    I have a couple old sunpak flashes and slave units for them, I guess I need to play. ((I also have a Minolta IIIF meter for flash metering)
  12. I'm using the main flash in GN mode, not ttl mode. There is no preflash, so the slave(s) trigger off the leading edge of the real flash.
  13. dbirdsong

    dbirdsong Guest

    Ok that makes sense... I guess I missed that part earlier in the thread.
  14. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Thanks Frank.
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