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HOW TO SET UP- hummingbird photography

Discussion in 'Birds' started by Keith, Jun 24, 2006.

  1. 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:

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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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  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. Isaiahsdad

    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.
  5. bfjr

    bfjr Guest

    excellent tutorial/post.

    Several things here I will be putting to use, thanks.
  6. Keith - Thanks for taking the time to share you ideas and setup with us. Your results are all the proof I need!
  7. wow Keith this is great
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. The chemist

    The chemist

    Jul 22, 2005
    Sounds fantastic!! Great shots and I will have to go out and try this. Bookmarked for later.
  11. Thank you for the excellent tutorial, Keith. Bookmarked.
  12. Geej


    Aug 11, 2005
    Northern Colorado
    Thank you for sharing your tutorial.....the results are outstanding!
  13. So that's how you do it...... great write up Keith!

  14. harvey_g


    May 13, 2006
    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.
  15. 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!
  16. 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!!!

  17. 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:
  18. smartie pants :biggrin: :biggrin: did you give up posting hummers or what, been waiting, time to get post processing buddy :wink: ........
  19. 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...........

  20. PGB


    Jan 25, 2005
    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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