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Hummingbird Photography

Joe Viani

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September 11th, 2019 - 10:31 AM

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Hummingbird Photography

It took a lot of practice and a lot of throw away shots, but I think I finally found the best way to up my chances for some great hummingbird shots.

This is what I do.

I sit my chair about 8 feet from the nearest bush that they come to often. I look though the camera and zoom in to various flowers around the bush, taking note of what the backgrounds look like. There’s going to be a few bad backgrounds, like a fence or shed or feeder pole, so I move my chair around until I have more nicer backgrounds than bad ones. This ups my chances of a great shot. This is also the time to get my camera settings ready.

I use a Canon EOS R with a Canon 100-400mm L lens zoomed in to 400.

Partial metering, so the center is the only part that the light meter reads. Auto Focus (AF) expanded with 9 points, placed in the center of the viewfinder in servo mode. Both metering and AF set this way because the metering is centered, so I focus on the bird in the center and make changes based on the bird’s exposure. I’m not worried about backgrounds being dark or blown out. Either give a nice effect and for the most part the backgrounds are blurred out anyways. Not to mention, it’s easier to chase the bird around in the center of the view finder, and these little birds are fast.

Shutter: no slower than 1/1000. Sometimes 1/800 will work. Anything slower than that, I find gets motion blur, since they move so fast. Burst mode, release priority.

ISO: auto, max ISO set to 1600. On darker days, I will set ISO to 2000.

Aperture: f6.3 - f/9, but at f/6 make sure the head is in focus. I try and use f/8 for the most part. f/9 or f/10 on brighter days.
Exposure compensation down 1/3 - 1, this way I can bring it up in post and not have the birds white neck feathers blown out.

One of the best ways to up your chances of a great shot is to focus on the bird when it has its beak in a flower, then follow it out. Servo mode will do its best to keep focus but keep your finger on the focus ring in case it focuses on a plant or background, that way you can manually get it back on the bird fast. It’s not easy but the more you practice the better you will get. Also, you will find that the same birds come back frequently and after they get used to you and your camera, they aren’t so skittish around you and you will be able to guestimate their flight patterns as they work a plant, making it even easier. Do not be alrmed at all the photos you will delete, either. You may take 20 to get just one shot, but that one shot will be a great one.


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