HOW TO SET UP- hummingbird photography

Joined
Jan 29, 2005
Messages
3,423
Location
Edmonton, Alberta
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 now Im boring you to death, but those of you who want to really give it a go, hopefully you find this helpful. I guess pictures would help now to see my actual set up......taken with my
good ol nikon 2 mega pixel p&s :rolleyes: :smile:

SIDE VIEW
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FRONT VIEW
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View of Background
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So once your set up, just get your little birdies to start posing
for you :) , Kevin these portrait shots are just for you :wink:

If I did not explain myself well or have further questions, just let me know. Hope someone found this helpful.

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Joined
Feb 14, 2006
Messages
238
Location
Chicago suburbs
Excellent information, thanks for sharing. That first hummer shot is amazing. I really like it because it is such a different pose than I have normally seen.
 
Joined
Feb 2, 2005
Messages
7,929
Location
Maple Bay, Duncan, BC, Canada
Real Name
Andreas Berglund
Great tutorial Keith!! Thank you for putting together, a few suggestions unless I missed it in your text....

* One has to turn the flashes around so their sensor eye is pointed towards the main flash to be dead sure they trigger, this is important for the one furthest away for the background....
* The reason one uses a TC is that the minimum focus range stays the same so you get more magnification and don't have to step away further. So why not use a TC20 at F16? It works but the AF starts becoming very erradic and yo miss shots, TC 14 or TC17 works ok.
* If your lens has switches that limit the focus range Use them, if you miss focus it has to go in and out all the way before you are back in focus, and you loos opportinities.
* I only use center focus AF-C to get pinpoint accuracy (or not :frown: ), curious what other use?
 
I

Isaiahsdad

Guest
Great information. I did the majority of my Hummer work with my old Olympus E-10 Camera. It was an SLR without the mirror and the only sould it made was the electronic shutter sound. It worked well because you could shut the sound off and the birds would not get spooked. Now with the D70s, they tend to jump when you take the picture from the noise of the camera until they get used to the sound. All the pictures I have gotten so far this year is of them jumping into flight. They are a challenge to shoot for me and that is wht I love to shoot them. One of the reasons I am so looking forward to getting the 80-200 f2.8. I have a few in my gallery if your interestd. Thanks for reading.
 
B

bfjr

Guest
excellent tutorial/post.

Several things here I will be putting to use, thanks.
 
Joined
Jan 31, 2005
Messages
1,196
Location
Brooklyn, NY USA
this is excellent info, thanks Keith. The only problem is that there's one key ingredient I can't get here where I live--hummingbirds! I get all my hummingbird shots (the few I have) while travelling, and usually in the wild, (although sometimes at feeders at lodges) and so a setup like this is impossible :-( Still, there are some good tips there and maybe when I retire to Southern Arizona...or costa Rica!..I can make use of this great tutorial.

Meantime your shots are just fabulous, as always!
 
Joined
Jan 31, 2005
Messages
1,196
Location
Brooklyn, NY USA
Isaiahsdad said:
All the pictures I have gotten so far this year is of them jumping into flight.
It may not be the mirror sound. I have had that same problem--and I am fairly certain its because of the pre-flashes from the SB800. I never had this problem with the SB80. I notice it happens mostly when shooting in lower light, when the birds are in full sun they don't see the pre-flashes. The problem manifests with many small birds but the hummers seem especially sensitive. The solution, turn off the pre-flashes and the only way I've found to do that is set the flash on manual, or Auto Aperture. It seems to help alot with the jumping birds.

I should add that this jumping behavior probably wouldn't manifest in a situation such as Keith's, with the feeder set-up---they will be too intent on feeding to notice. Heck, Keith's deck looks like a major transportation hub and obviously they are more intent on the food than the going's on around them :biggrin: But when perched in the wild, the pre-flash definitely spooks them.
 
Joined
May 13, 2006
Messages
1,064
Great information. Now all I need is some hummingbirds and a monthly income to match the battery budget for all those speedlights.

Your photos are absolutely spectacular. Thanks for sharing this with us.
 
Joined
Dec 26, 2005
Messages
2,066
Location
Fox Creek, Alberta Canada
Thanks Keith, great explanation. BUT, I hope I never have to do this all myself as hummingbird trips are our tradition you know!!!!! Love that little Rufous pose you posted!
 
Joined
Jan 29, 2005
Messages
3,423
Location
Edmonton, Alberta
Oh Im sure I missed a fair bit, LOL, but it made me stay under 6000 words so tried to keep as much as I can.............LOL!!!


andreasb said:
Great tutorial Keith!! Thank you for putting together, a few suggestions unless I missed it in your text....

* One has to turn the flashes around so their sensor eye is pointed towards the main flash to be dead sure they trigger, this is important for the one furthest away for the background....
* The reason one uses a TC is that the minimum focus range stays the same so you get more magnification and don't have to step away further. So why not use a TC20 at F16? It works but the AF starts becoming very erradic and yo miss shots, TC 14 or TC17 works ok.
* If your lens has switches that limit the focus range Use them, if you miss focus it has to go in and out all the way before you are back in focus, and you loos opportinities.
* I only use center focus AF-C to get pinpoint accuracy (or not :frown: ), curious what other use?
 
Joined
Jan 29, 2005
Messages
3,423
Location
Edmonton, Alberta
After my trip, I can honestly say it was a whole new adventure to hummingbird photography. If one thing I would have done was bring a feeder with me :biggrin:
jczinn said:
this is excellent info, thanks Keith. The only problem is that there's one key ingredient I can't get here where I live--hummingbirds! I get all my hummingbird shots (the few I have) while travelling, and usually in the wild, (although sometimes at feeders at lodges) and so a setup like this is impossible :-( Still, there are some good tips there and maybe when I retire to Southern Arizona...or costa Rica!..I can make use of this great tutorial.

Meantime your shots are just fabulous, as always!
 
Joined
Jan 29, 2005
Messages
3,423
Location
Edmonton, Alberta
smartie pants :biggrin: :biggrin: did you give up posting hummers or what, been waiting, time to get post processing buddy :wink: ........
kramp said:
So that's how you do it...... great write up Keith!

Martin
 
Joined
Jan 29, 2005
Messages
3,423
Location
Edmonton, Alberta
tradition. LOL!!!!!!!!! I was surprised to find that rufous shot, that was full frame, Im usually good at getting body parts. LOL.........I need to add a bit of canvas too it, very tight....thanks Sis...........

AnnS said:
Thanks Keith, great explanation. BUT, I hope I never have to do this all myself as hummingbird trips are our tradition you know!!!!! Love that little Rufous pose you posted!
 

PGB

Joined
Jan 25, 2005
Messages
7,986
I think this thread is worthy of a sticky for a while.

Nice setup Keith, thanks for sharing with us.

With Regards,
 

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