Posts Tagged ‘High Speed Hummingbird Photography’

I will be leading a High Speed Hummingbird Photography Workshop for CNPA & Columbia Camera Club 

This one day workshop will be located at the Bamberg  farm in North Augusta  South Carolina on 4/14/2012. Cost for this outing is $5 to cover lunch which will be furnished. Also please bring one image (1500 on longest side) for a critique.  There will also be an opportunity to shoot at the Bamberg outing so bring your stuff. Our hosts will ferry us around their property and pick us up at pre arranged times as its a pretty good sized piece of land. Program begins at 9 and welcome to CNPA.

For more information please contact Don Wuori, the  Midlands Region Co Coordinator for CNPA at: mrsisu@aol.com

See you all there!


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They Are Here!!

I saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Easter Sunday!

It has started…!

Young male Ruby taken with a Panasonic GH2 and a 14-140mm lens! Who says you need big fancy camera equipment to photograph these incredible birds?

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Today, March 15, 2011 I saw my first hummingbird of the year in Pawleys Island, SC! It was a mature male in stunning reds and greens! He was at one of my back yard feeders for about 15 min.  I have never seen such a brilliant red neck!

They Are Back!!

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The Main Hummingbird Gallery Is Now Online!


Ruby Throated Hummingbird

The main gallery of Hummingbird images (only my best work) is now online and ready for viewing! Please take a look and drop me some feedback to let me know what you think!  A LOT of work and time goes into these images but they are worth the effort. I will usually sit for about 7 hours watching them and taking pictures as they battle each other.  It really does not matter where in the world I am, their behavior is the same!  They are totally unafraid of me and will land in the palm of my hand or on the end of my lens to rest and watch me!

If you are interested in how I take these images go to my main page and scroll down to watch the short 10 second video of it in action!


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Please welcome Kristy Walker!  She has submitted images to be displayed of hummingbirds in her area of the country!  You can view them by clicking on the Guest Gallery Menu along the top of this page!

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Evening Hummingbird Shoot (5 Light)

Stage Setup

When I got home tonight at 6:30 I decided to setup the Hummingbird stage (Feeder, Flower & Lights) and take advantage of the nice weather.  I noticed that my adult male Hummingbird was no longer dominant!  There was a young male who seemed to have taken over and kept the adult away from the feeders (darn, there might not be any more adult shots!). This was really upsetting, but what can you do?  I only had an hour until there was not enough light to shoot with so I got busy.  I brought out the three light stands, backdrop, and the 5 flash units.  It took about a half hour to set everything up only to discover that I had no flowers in my garden to put on the feeder!  I walked down a few houses with scissors and took care of that little problem! The picture to the right is a shot of my basic stage set.  there is a hole in the center for the birds to access about 8 inches wide and 6 high.  The lights were adjusted by moving them closer or further away (leaving the manual power setting of 1/16 power the same on all of them).  I used 4 lights on the birds and 1 on the backdrop. If you have even 3 lights you can still get some good shots, but the more you have the better your images will be and the better you will become in this photographic venue.

Tonight I decided to shoot with a 400mm prime lens set back about 10 feet from the stage with NO extension tubes so that I might get the sharpest images. (tomorrow I am going to shoot all day long  and will use the Canon 70-200 L/IS,  f/4 lens to show you the difference!

Young Ruby Throated Humming Bird In Flight

After setup and light adjustment was complete (manual exposure mode, f/29, 1/200s, ISO 100 & -5ev ambient exposure) I sat back with my wireless shutter release and waited for the action to start.  It was slow going because the new king hummingbird was unsure of himself but still managed to keep the others away.  Finally he started exploring and gave me the opportunity for some good shots. It is too bad that he is not as good looking as the adult, but it is what it is!

He gave me a lot of good poses and was very acrobatic. All in all it was a very good show. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

In Post Processing in Photoshop CS5 with NIK software’s Viveza,  I discovered a MAJOR PROBLEM!  When you shoot at such a small aperture, any dust that is on the image sensor will show up as dark spots on the image! I discovered tonight that I had HUNDREDS of them on my pictures and it took about 10 min to clean each image before I could even really start processing them!  Now, this is after I cleaned the camera tonight when I got home, in fact I only made it worse than it was before!  So, because of this I only managed to get 2 images totally done and ready to archive and print!  Major pain! Now I am going to have to clean the camera image sensor before I go to bed and there will be no guarantee that it is clean until I shoot tomorrow again! This only goes to prove how hard we work for our images….

Streach In There! Young Ruby Throated Hummingbird Feeding!

OK, here is a VIDEO showing you what it looks like all together and operational!

I promise, I will get technical again tomorrow night!

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Or, How To Spend Money Without Trying!

It really IS worth it though!

Over the years I have refined my own personal approach to photographing Hummingbirds.  While this type of photography is VERY difficult, rest assured that you can master it as long as you build a bag of photographic equipment that will allow you to overcome these problems!

Green Violet-ear Hummingbird

But…. when most people think about Hummingbird photography the first thing that usually comes to mind are the beautiful colors of these small birds and how to take out their camera and record them for later enjoyment! But really we should be thinking about only 1 thing……  SPEED & MOTION.  These 2 issues are the most difficult problems that you will have to overcome unless you are aiming for the standard “bird on a stick image”!. Take a look at the 2 images shown here.  Both are nice, pleasing images, but which one really grabs you by the shoulders and screams “HUMMINGBIRD!”?  Like I said, both are great images, and even the Green to the left is stunning in its color and pose.  But ACTION that has been captured by the camera goes way beyond the image of the bird, it tells a story!

Adult Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird In Flight

Getting Started

I shoot Canon equipment, so everything described here is aligned with that in mind.  There are two types of images that you can take of hummingbirds, at rest and in flight.  Each type of image requires a different approach.

By far, at rest is the easiest and will require no special equipment except for a lens in the 300 to 400mm range and an extension tube at 25mm to modify its minimum focus point.  You will also need a means of providing extra light on the bird to overcome high contrast in the shadow areas.

Flight photography is a different issue.  Due to the high frequency of wing movement there is NO way to stop the wing motion with shutter speed.  For this you MUST use high speed flash units to “freeze” the wings mid stroke.  It is here that I will spend most of my time talking about the necessary equipment to do just this.

Some background:
Most Hummingbirds move their wings up to 90 beats per second.  Sounds fast but we have cameras capable of 1/8000 second shutter and that should stop that motion right?  WRONG! If you were able to shoot at 1/8000 s with bright enough natural light for a good exposure then you stand a slight chance of actually  stopping the wing motion!

Note on LUCK:
As a Hummingbird reverses its wing stroke from up to down and back you can get lucky and capture the image just at that moment with standard equipment.  There is a slight pause at the reversal when a normal camera (even without a flash) will stop all of the motion!  Whatever technique you use, get out there and shoot!

Canon 1DMK3

I use a Canon 1DMK3 DSLR body for all of my bird photography. The reason for this is the high speed image capture, about 9 frames/second.  I also like  the mode controls and the 45 focus points as well as the advanced multi-processors to split the various camera functions.

Canon 400DO

Now, while you can use ANY DSLR camera body to photograph Hummingbirds, your choice of lenses is a different matter.  Hummingbirds a brave little gladiators and once they get used to you around the yard, will pay you little attention.  Nevertheless you will want to fill the frame with your birds! This requires a high quality lens at least 300mm but 400mm would be much better. Your lens choice is where you should be throwing your money, after all, you will likely replace your DSLR every few years but keep your lenses for at least a decade! I use the Canon 400 DO/IS lens, but you would be just as happy with the Canon 400 L 5.6 lens as well.  A lot of photographers have the Canon 100-400 L/IS in their bag but as a rule they just don’t produce sharp images!

Canon 400 DO & 100-400L

In order to fill the frame with these small birds, a lens in the 400mm range just makes more sense.  As I said before, the 100-400 L/IS is a widely owned lens but in my experience it is just not sharp enough.  If you do own one of these, try it for a few months locked at 400mm to see if you have better luck with it than I did.  Here you can see the difference (at least on the outside) between these two lenses. I want you to take note of the size difference between these two lenses, the DO is much larger than the 100-400, but it is a little lighter. Another thing to remember is that the 100-400 is a push pull zoom which forces outside air in and out of the lens along with dust!  You can pick up the 100-400 for about $1200 on the web and the 400 DO for about $5500!

Canon 400mm L f\5.6

This is a big difference and is the main reason that most photographers look at the 3rd alternative, the Canon 400 L f/5.6 which can be picked up for about $1200.  The f/5.6 is a VERY sharp lens (Canon states it is their sharpest lens) and a good choice for all birds including Hummingbirds!

Canon 70-200 f/4

You do not have to have a 300mm or 400mm lens for FLIGHT shots though, a GOOD 200mm lens like the Canon 70-200 f/4 (600.00 new) will generate VERY SHARP images. But since it is so short you have to move the camera/tripod closer to the feeder stage. The birds don’t care and will adapt to this intrusion into their personal space just fine.  You cannot do this with perch shots, the birds will not allow it at all! But if you decide to go this route you will have a SUPER SHARP lens that will last a lifetime!

Now, these longer lenses have an issue that must be overcome in order to get close enough to your subject to fill the frame.  They all have a minimum focus distance around 3 meters which is much too far away.  You can overcome this in 2 ways or a combination of them both.There are two ways to increase the subject size with you existing lens. The first is to decrease the minimum focus that the lens can normally use allowing you to move physically closer to your subject.  The second is to leave the minimum focus alone and physically increase the length of the lens in MM by adding an extender between you lens and camera which will multiply the effective lens length.

Canon 25mm Extension Tube

Pictured to the left is a Canon 25mm extension tube. This device goes between the lens and camera and has the same effect as moving a projector further away from its screen, it makes the image larger!  On a camera it has a 2nd effect in that it also reduces the minimum focus distance!  You can purchase these in different sizes for different minimum focus control! This is my main tool that I use to modify my long lens to get physically closer to my subject!  You can purchase them individually or in sets of 3 different sizes.

Kenko Extension Tubes

Kenko makes the set on the right for Canon EF lenses which will pass the computer control signals back and forth between the lens and the camera and costs much less than the Canon ones.

1.4 Teleconverter

To the left is a Canon 1.4 extender. It is attached between the lens and the camera and will multiply the focal length of whatever lens it is attached to by 1.4.  This has no effect on the minimum focus distance but will enlarge the subject.

You can combine both the extension tubes and the tele-converter for increase effect.

Light Control Through High Speed Flash

OK, the hardest issue in Hummingbird photography is stopping its wing motion using high speed flash. You could purchase a set of expensive height speed flash units to attach to your camera, but they really are single trick ponies! Wouldn’t you really like to have a flash system that you could use for both Hummingbird photography and normal photography?

ST-E2 Remote Flash Controller

Canon 580 EX2 Flash Units

What I use is a set of Canon 580 EX2 flash units set in manual mode to control their pulse width.  Then I control them with a  wireless Canon STE-2 mounted on the camera. This system allows you to control any number of remote flash units which is perfect for Hummingbird photography.

OK, enough of this for today. next I will talk about how to put this all together and to actually use it all!

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