Thursday, May 06, 2010

10 Tips For Hummingbird Photos

Whether you have a point and shoot camera or a more professional set up, photographing hummingbirds can be a challenge. 

I shared some of my bird photography on my post Hummingbird Happenings.  Since then I've received a lot of questions about what type of equipment I was using to get such fantastic pictures.   Surprisingly it's not all about the price of your camera. 

Here's my 10 tips to take striking hummingbirds photos:

12 mega pixel affordability
1. Equipment:  Camera's range in price from around $50 to thousands of dollars.  Having an expensive camera is nice if your a hobbyist or professional photographer, but for the rest of us it's not always practical or affordable.

I have a great little point and shoot camera.  It's an Olympus FE-46 12 mega pixel with a 5x optical zoom.  This little camera is a power house.  I use it for everything! My camera cost only $50 at Christmas time, so when I tell you that it's not all about the price of the camera you use I'm saying so from experience!  I'm proof that you can get priceless shots even with an inexpensive camera.

I've found the key for taking these great photos is knowing my camera and the best settings for the particular photo.  So experiment with your camera.  Try taking the same shot using several different settings.  Can you see the difference?  Choose the setting that looks best to you.

2. Camo:  Camouflage is not required, but it definitely helps to get great wildlife photos.  With hummingbirds being so tiny, it's important to be able to get fairly close to them and camouflage can help with that.

I took my first set of pictures in my regular clothes and I was able to get a few nice ones. For my next session I donned my camo cap and sweatshirt and right away I noticed the difference.  Those little hummingbirds had been keeping a bit of a distance from me in my street clothes.  Decked out in my camo gear they began flying within a few inches of me.  In fact they got so close I could feel the vibration of their wings!

Good lighting for great pictures
3. Lighting:  Finding the right light balance is key with capturing the detail and beautiful iridescent coloring on the hummers.  

The best natural lighting is on a cloudy day when the sunlight is diffused by those clouds.  If you're shooting on a sunny day, find a shady spot and try to take your photos in the morning or evening.  Mid-day on a sunny day the light will be too harsh and tend to wash out your color and details.   

Also, play with the white balance adjustment on your camera to find the best setting.  When shooting under the cover of my porch the light beyond the porch in my photo background was much brighter than the foreground.  To compensate for this I used a +0.7 - +1.0 white balance. 

4. Motion:  Hummingbirds are fast little fliers.  Since digital cameras don't always have an option to set up a fast shutter speed, it can be hard to catch these images.  

Check your camera for a sports or action setting.  This will have a faster shutter than your normal settings.  Even still it will probably be slower than these birds. 

Move your hummingbird feeder to a stable location where it is not swinging.  I set mine on our porch rail.  If you have a tripod, use that to stabilize your camera.  If you don't have a tripod, try resting your camera on a stable surface.  I don't have a tripod, so I set mine on a towel on the same porch rail.

Be sure to stay still yourself so you don't frighten the hummingbirds away.  

Avoid this by focusing on feeder
5. Focus:  Getting the focus on such a small and fast moving target can be difficult.

Set your camera on macro or close up.  This will help to capture the small details.  Set your display to show a target on your focus area.  

Because of their sporadic and quick movements, it's difficult to focus on the hummingbird itself.  Instead  zoom in to a spot on the feeder and set the  focus there.  Now when a little hummingbird lands on that spot the camera will be focused on it as part of the foreground.  This will give you a much higher success rate for good pictures and it's a whole lot easier trying to keep  the focus trained on the moving birds especially when using the zoom.

With the macro setting on most cameras, your picture will be clear at the focus area and blur out the rest of the picture.  You can see in the shots above how the focus went to the background and blurred the foreground image.  That is because I was trying to focus on the bird.  When the bird moved, the camera readjusted resulting in a bad shot.

Cluttered backgrounds distract from birds
6. Background:  When setting your feeders for photographing, be aware of the background that will be behind your shot. 

There's nothing more frustrating than snapping a perfect picture of a hummingbird in full glory only to discover that there are distracting elements in the background. I shot many of these! 

Try changing the placement of the feeder or you may be able to simply change the angle at which you are shooting to achieve a better background image and a better background makes for a better photograph. 

7.  Patience:  Be patient with the process and give yourself plenty of undisturbed time to sit and take photos.  

There's no way to rush this.  You'll be at the mercy of the birds landing at the feeder so just relax and enjoy some time with them.  It's fun to observe their behavior with each other and it's always nice to have a reason to be outdoors.

Use flash for birds in flight
8. Flash:  Use the flash on your camera sparingly.  Flash photos can wash out the color and detail of the birds with harsh light. 

There's one exception to this rule.  I discovered this little trick by accident, but what a great one.  

If you are trying to capture the motion of your hummingbirds in flight, set your flash for  "fill in" or whatever the setting is on your camera that makes a series of 2-3 quick flashes.  This causes a strobe effect that allows you to get a stop motion type picture without a fancy camera.  Cool!

9. Quantity:  To get quality hummingbird shots it's all about quantity.  Take lots of photos because not everyone will be a keeper.  

I can't tell you how many photos I deleted that just showed my hummingbird feeder! I would aim and shoot, but the bird would fly off. 

I took hundreds of shots and came away with about 80 that I really liked and another 50 or so that were fine.  That's the great thing about digital photography you can take tons of photos and just keep the good ones.

Crop for great photos
10. Editing:  Use a good photo editor to crop and adjust your pictures. I use Picasa from Google.  

By cropping your pictures you can eliminate excess background and bring the focus in to a particularly nice part of your photograph.  

Sometimes what looks like a poor photo from a full picture view can become exceptional by simply cropping it down. 

The photo on the left is a good example of cropping to turn an ordinary picture into something special. I was bummed that I didn't get the full face of the male hummer in his full color, but after taking a second look I realized that with a simple crop I still had a stunning picture of 3 females perched together on the right side of the feeder. 

I hope these tips help you to get some wonderful pictures of the hummingbirds that visit your yard.  So get outside and get shooting!

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