Shooting hummingbirds is pretty difficult because they are so small and buzz around from flower to flower very quickly. In the field the only time I can capture a hummingbird is when it perches on a limb, like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird below.
I didn’t alter the camera shutter speed for the shot above (typically 1/320th to 1/500th of a second) because the hummer is like any other perching bird – shutter speed is not much of a factor. I’ve tried to photograph hummingbirds in flight in the field and failed miserably – my camera can’t attain a focus on the fast-moving hummer. So to get a BIF picture of a hummer I “cheat”. Just a little.
Basically I set myself up near a hummingbird feeder so I know where the hummingbird is going to be before it even gets there. Then I focus my camera on the feeder or if possible on one of the perches on the feeder. If the hummer approaches the feeder at roughly a right angle to my camera it should be in focus because it is staying about the same distance away from my lens. Since I use back-button focusing instead of using the shutter button to activate the focus, once I attain focus on the feeder it stays at that same focal length when I’m pushing the shutter button. If your camera isn’t set up for back-button focus, when you press the shutter button the camera’s focus could find a distant object if you try to follow the bird away from the feeder. It is possible to get good shots with the shutter button focusing the camera but with the back-button focusing, once I set my focus point it doesn’t change, allowing me to follow the hummer as it approaches the feeding perch and as it moves away from it.
I used this technique recently when visiting my friends Bob and Sue in Pentwater, Michigan. They have two feeders hanging on their deck so I sat on the deck rail and focused on one of the perches of a feeder quite close to me. The four hummers that had been zipping by the feeder avoided it for a couple of minutes then their hunger overcame their fear and soon they were buzzing in to the area I was focused on – I clicked away. The first two pictures shows the relative proximity of the hummers and feeder.
Here are some more pictures just of the hummers. I love the one with one little feather out of place on its head. First a few of the male:
Now one of the female (the pics with the feeder in the frame are all females):
As you look at the pictures you’ll see that the body and head are pretty sharp, but the wings show some motion blur. This is due to the shutter speed, not the focus. I had my shutter speed set to 1/2000th of a second and it wasn’t quite fast enough to “stop” the wings. Others recommend setting the shutter speed to 1/2500th to 1/4000th of a second. Next time I’ll use a faster speed and see the difference. In the mean time I’m pretty happy with the results. Give it a try! If you have a technique for shooting hummers let me know!
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