Yesterday I went to the Urquhart Butterfly Garden with the hope of capturing some images of hummingbirds in flight. Mother Nature cooperated and I was treated to two brief hummingbird visits, each lasting for a minute or two as the hummingbird flitted from blossom to blossom. This article shares some hummingbird images captured at various shutter speeds.
Lately I’ve been doing bird photography using both a Nikon 1 V2 and a Nikon 1 V3, each equipped with a 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. Since the V2 and V3 shoot at different continuous auto-focus (AF-C) frame rates using this combination of cameras provides a bit more flexibility rather than only shooting with one model of body. Since the buffers on both the V2 and V3 are limited to 40 images, having an extra body with me allows for more images to be captured as I can simply change bodies when a buffer fills.
All of the images that follow were captured hand-held in available light at the same location while the hummingbirds were flying and feeding in some flowers. Let’s have a look at a couple of images captured at 1/1600 of a second.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
As we can see in the above image, when a hummingbird’s wings are captured in the extended ‘back’ position a shutter speed of 1/1600 is sufficiently fast enough to capture the bird’s body with good detail. There is some wing blur visible at this shutter speed.
When the hummingbird’s wings are beginning to descend in a down stroke or rise during an upbeat, the blur increases. Mid-stroke wing positions have the most visible blur. Whether a photographer wants a certain amount of wing blur in their images or not is a personal decision.
Now let’s examine a couple of images captured at a slightly faster shutter speed of 1/2000.
The back view orientation used in the above image gives us a good vantage point to assess the amount of the wing blur created when using a shutter speed of 1/2000.
As we can see in the above image, even when a hummingbird’s wings are in the ‘back’ position, motion blur is clearly visible. With the next several images we’ll shift to a shutter speed of 1/3200.
Shooting with a shutter speed of 1/3200 does help to freeze the motion of a hummingbird’s wings, especially in the ‘back’ and ‘forward’ positions as we can see in the first and second images. The third image shows that wing blur will still be noticeable during mid-beat when a shutter speed of 1/3200 is used. You’ll also notice that the ISO has increased quite a bit in these three images. Some of this is due to the fact that the V2 and V3 perform differently when it comes to measured vs. manufacturer stated ISO, with the V2 being about 2/5 of a stop more accurate than the V3.
On a personal basis, I much prefer to ‘freeze’ hummingbird wing motion as much as possible given shooting conditions. As a result I tend to use 1/3200 as a minimum shutter speed when photographing hummingbirds in flight, and I’ll use even faster shutter speeds when possible. Let’s have a look at some images captured using a shutter speed of 1/8000.
This rear position capture allows us to see how much wing blur has been reduced when compared to shooting at 1/1600.
In the image above we can see quite good wing definition as the hummingbird is beginning its down stroke wing beat.
The image above was my favourite one captured during the two brief visits the hummingbird made to Urquhart Butterfly Garden. Using a shutter speed of 1/8000 has ‘frozen’ the wings quite well when in the ‘back’ position.
Like all things photographic, using fast shutter speeds when photographing hummingbirds in flight (and other small birds) does come with a trade-off in terms of shooting at higher ISO’s. As is the case with all digital cameras, increasing ISO reduces both dynamic range and colour depth which does affect overall image quality. As photographers, each of us needs to assess what is most important to us when choosing our camera settings.
Many photographers use flash when photographing hummingbirds, some utilizing quite elaborate set-ups. Again, this is a personal choice. I prefer to shoot hand-held in available light.
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images in the article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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