Hummingbirds are one of my favourite birds to photograph. In Southern Ontario we are only treated to visits from these ‘pocket rockets’ for a few months of the year. While it is ideal to find and photograph hummingbirds around flowers, opportunities tend to be fairly rare – especially in my backyard. As the season is quickly drawing to a close, I thought it would be fun to post an article about photographing hummingbirds near feeders, as this is where the majority of images are captured by many photographers.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
I much prefer the challenge of trying to capture images of hummingbirds in flight, rather than when they are perched. The image above is very typical of the type of angle and composition that can result when photographing hummingbirds around feeders. If you look on the bird’s chest you will see a reddish hue, caused by a reflection from the feeder. This is a telltale sign that the bird was photographed near a feeder as this colour shading doesn’t look natural on the hummingbird.
The hummingbird in the above photograph was briefly hovering about 5 centimetres (~2 inches) above one of my feeders. Its chest and belly had a very strong reddish cast. I cropped the hummingbird tightly to remove the feeder. I then did a hue adjustment on the red pallet, pretty much removing this colour from the image which makes the hummingbird’s colour look more natural. For comparison purposes let’s have a look at the entire frame as originally captured.
You can clearly see the reddish colour cast on the underside of the hummingbird. To my eye, the feeder doesn’t add any visual value to the photograph, other than giving it some context, so I had no hesitation to crop it out.
The image above was also captured with the hummingbird in very close proximity to a bright red feeder. A very aggressive crop was done on the image in order to focus on just the hummingbird and to remove the feeder. An adjustment to the red hue was also done.
It is a matter of personal taste whether a photographer wants to show feeders in their images or not. At times hummingbirds can be so close to feeders that it is basically impossible to crop a feeder out of an image.
When photographing hummingbirds around feeders it is always a good idea to watch how the birds behave. I’ve found that they will often fly in from the same basic direction. Almost all of the hummingbirds that I’ve observed will very briefly hover about 15 to 20 centimetres (~ 6 to 8 inches) away from a feeder before they approach it to feed, or land on one of the perches. The exact position of this hovering around a feeder can vary.
I always try to photograph a hummingbird at this precise moment, i.e. when it is doing this very brief hover before it comes in closer to the feeder.
What follows is a series of six consecutive images of a hummingbird that was briefly hovering at this 15 to 20 centimetre ( ~ 6 to 8 inch) distance away from a feeder. These photographs were captured hand-held in my suburban backyard.
It takes some planning and discipline to capture this type of image, including the following simple tips.
1) Position your feeder in good light and at a height that will give you a good, unobstructed view so you can see the hummingbirds approaching.
2) Whenever possible, position your feeders so they will be on the same focal plane as your camera. Avoid having to shoot up or down at feeders.
3) Choose a shooting angle that will place anything in the background a good distance away from the feeder. This will help create a smooth, out-of-focus background. Anticipate where the ‘shooting zone’ will be when hummingbirds do their pre-approach hovering.
4) Sit in a comfortable chair, positioned in the same spot, so the hummingbirds will get used to your presence. Have your camera ready and avoid any sudden movements when the hummingbirds arrive.
5) Pre-focus your lens on the feeder. This will increase the likelihood of your camera quickly acquiring focus on the hummingbird during the split second when it is hovering 15 to 20 centimetres away from the feeder.
6) Do some tests to determine the best camera settings to use. This will vary depending on the gear you are using and the amount of wing blur you prefer in your images. My preferred settings with my Nikon 1 V2 or V3 are to shoot in Manual mode, f/5.6, using continuous auto focus with subject tracking, and Auto-ISO 160-6400. I most often shoot at 15 or 20 frames per second depending on the camera used and utilize matrix metering. VR is typically turned off. My preferred shutter speed (assuming enough light) is 1/5000.
7) Set realistic expectations for yourself and be patient. It is very common for all of us to miss these fleeting photographic opportunities.
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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