Photographing Hummingbirds Is A Bear

May 24, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

HummingbirdHummingbird HummingbirdHummingbird I've got this friend who takes a lot Hummingbird photos, although her Facebook feed has been very pig-centric lately. I can't say I blame her as she owns a really sweet looking potbelly pig who I believe is considerably smarter than the dog we have at home, if only perhaps ⅔ to ¾ as cute. I only considered photographing Hummingbirds after I'd seen some of her work and was inspired by it. When my dad told me that he'd seen his first hummingbirds of the year it was time for me to pack up my gear and head to the friendly confines of his covered patio to try my hand at wildlife photography.

I'd done some research beforehand to see what the experts had to say because, as they pointed out, they are tiny, and they are fast.  My set up was much more extravagant than I'd anticipated it would be, but as I had the gear, I might as well use it.  For anyone that cares I used two strobes, one underneath with an umbrella with a remote trigger attached and the other light opposite and above the feeder.  They were triggered using a speed light mounted on camera.  There was a recommendation that one might use a blurred out background on foam core that could be lit additionally.  It makes sense if you're going to use fast shutter speeds as I did. After a lazy afternoon experimenting I agree that a lit background would have helped, but it seemed too much like cheating given I was shooting wildlife, even if it was in my dad's backyard.  My ISO was at 1200 while my shutter speed was at 8000 and my aperture was at 2.8 but at one point I stopped down to 3.5.  Shutter speeds that fast just refuse to let much ambient light to register, which drives me nuts, but also a necessary evil to freeze the wings (mostly), and without flash it would be just too dark.  These shots were both taken in mid-day shade if that helps illustrate how shutter speed affects ambient light.

I think the first image is pretty good, good enough to want to try again while the second is so borderline awful that I need to try again. I need more practice with this medium.  Here are my take-aways from today:

  • The first image is plenty sharp for my taste, but using a shutter speed of 1/8000 is just too fast for my liking, making it nearly impossible to register any ambient light. Next time I'll drag the shutter in the neighborhood of 1/6500 or even 1/4000 just to see what it looks like. 
  • Both images are too "flashy" for my taste. Looking at them together its obvious to me that flash was used, which isn't something I wanted to advertise with these shots, and the light is too harsh to boot. Next time I'll dial down the power of the strobes and use a light box rather than an umbrella.  I might even consider dropping the ISO to 800.
  • The image with the wings moving was almost awesome but the area I'd prefocused on wasn't exactly where the bird showed up. Add to that I was taken by surprise when the bird showed up, and the lack of sharpness is likely due to me jumping out of my chair and jostling my camera when I hit the shutter. The truth is most of the afternoon was spent waiting in a chair with a rum and coke in my hand, which by my standards of wildlife photography, is the correct way to enjoy the event.
  • I'll get closer to my subject next time.  I shot at 200mm which was far enough away to not scare the bird off, but these images were cropped down in a HUGE way! I'll get much closer to achieve the same level of closeness while not having to crop out all those glorious pixels I paid for.

I'm now invested in hummingbirds because though I like these images I really, really want to get the shot with these little guys. I took on a project that is challenging and fun. I'm glad to say that today, that bird got the better of me but we aren't done yet. I'm gonna get ya, but photographing hummingbirds is a bear!   



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