Beginner’s Guide to Successful Hummingbird Photography
Nature provides adventure photographers and wildlife photographers with an exciting playground, especially when it comes to capturing some of the most fascinating scenes that the world has to offer. The advancement in camera technology has also opened this door to beginner photographers to get their taste of these stunning sights. One of the most relaxing and perhaps favored nature photography subtypes is bird photography.
What is Bird Photography?
As mentioned earlier, bird photography is one of the most popular wildlife photography genres today. What makes it so appealing to beginner and advanced photographers alike? Every photographer out there has different answers to this question. Let’s first try to define bird photography.
Bird photography is the type of photography that focuses on observing, documenting, and capturing different types of birds in their natural habitat. Aside from knowledge in photography, shooting wildlife subjects like birds requires knowledge in the wild and your subject’s behavior, as well as experience in dealing with the unpredictability of the surroundings.
Exploring the Fascinating World of Hummingbird Photography
The bird photography subgenre gives photographers a glimpse of this elusive subject. It also gives them a close view of their magnificent and impressive mid-air flight, frozen in time. Hummingbirds are one of the most beloved subjects in this type of photography.
Hummingbirds have always drawn the fascination of photographers. These birds are one of nature’s most amazing, beautiful creatures. Their colorful, iridescent feathers and rapid wing-beats make them look like jewels in flight.
Hummingbirds are a truly unique species: they are the only birds that can hover and fly backward, giving them incredible agility and a delightfully unpredictable flight pattern. Their tiny, vivacious forms can inspire tenderness for their fragility, joy for their liveliness, and gratefulness for the gift of their beauty.
Being able to capture images of these enthralling creatures in all their moods and mysteries is an outstanding achievement for a photographer. However, the same qualities that make hummingbirds so fascinating often make them a tough challenge to photograph as well. This article will give you a comprehensive guide to photographing hummingbirds for beginners. The article also discusses information on various techniques (flash and non-flash) so you can have more freedom to experiment and incorporate what works best for you.
The Best Camera Equipment for Hummingbird Photography
In order to take great photos of hummingbirds, you're going to need the right camera equipment in your camera bag. You can always add more devices to your arsenal, but the discussions about the equipment below will be enough to get you started and build your confidence with hummingbird photography.
Choosing the right camera for hummingbird photography
A basic DSLR with full manual mode will suffice for static shots of hummingbirds feeding or perching. But to capture these beauties in flight, you'll need a camera with good autofocus performance. Hummingbirds are tiny, fast, and difficult to focus on. Better autofocus is one of the factors that make expensive cameras more desirable for high-speed photography.
Determining the right flash units to use for bird photography
It's possible to photograph hummingbirds without flash, but most professional photographers opt to use at least two flashes. Remember that since a bird flying in mid-air is considered a high-speed event, flash units and their burst speed matter a lot. You'll need to mount these external flashes on stable stands in order to get a precise fix on your shot.
Deciding on which type of lens to use
Choose a lens that can provide some distance from your subject. You don’t want to scare these fragile and elusive creatures away by standing close to the event zone. As with most wildlife photography, it's important not to spook your subjects, and a longer lens will enable you to take pictures from a distance. Although a telephoto lens isn't a requirement, you should start with the longest lens that you have.
Rely on an intuitive remote shutter release
You'll need to use a remote trigger since you'll be working with multiple flashes. This trigger should be able to connect to your camera and communicate with your external flash units. These are some of the options you have: wired triggers, radio, and infrared.
Wired triggers are reliable, but they can limit your movement. Infrared triggers are often disrupted by factors such as lighting or distance.
MIOPS Camera Trigger is your best bet when taking photos of hummingbirds for the first time. Aside from its ability to be connected to your camera, it can also communicate with your other flash units for a more synchronized shot.
MIOPS remote trigger is a reliable, portable flash and camera trigger in one, convenient device. It's functional under any photography setting, including low-light conditions. The wireless function also means that you'll be able to take quality hummingbird photos from the comfort of your home or inside a vehicle, instead of having to remain completely still or using a wildlife photography blind to avoid startling the birds.
Now that you have your camera bag ready, let’s go find some birds.
Flash or Non-Flash Techniques for Hummingbird Photography?
If you choose to photograph hummingbirds without flash, you'll need to compensate for the lack of light to give clarity to their rapid movements.
Although fast shutter speed is enough to freeze some high-speed events such as sports maneuvers, it's simply not enough to capture a fully focused image of a hummingbird's wings. A hummingbird flaps its wings at 200 beats per second. To capture a defined image of the wings, you'll need to set your shutter speed to more than 1/1000 seconds. However, this reduces your depth of field, which could result in most of the hummingbird's body being out of focus.
On the other hand, you could choose to keep your shutter speed low, to maintain focus on the whole bird. However, the tradeoff is that the hummingbird's wings will come out blurred.
It's possible to take beautiful, creative hummingbird photos without using flash, but you'll have to keep these tradeoffs in mind.
Lighting is the most complicated aspect of hummingbird photography, and many professionals have developed their own techniques and processes for illuminating their hummingbird shots. Since photographing hummingbirds in flight is a type of high-speed photography, the primary source of light in the image is your flash. Using multiple flashes fills in deep shadows and results in tack-sharp photos.
Hummingbirds get their shimmering colors from the refraction of light on their feathers. Using multiple flashes will bring out this quality and take your hummingbird photos to a whole new level.
Rigging Your Flash Triggers
Most DSLRs can be set up so that the built-in flash (or a mounted flash unit) will automatically trigger another external flash. This setup varies with camera models and manufacturers, so you may have to consult your camera's manual or other instructional resources.
Not all DSLRs have this function. In this case, you'll need a trigger that connects your external flash to your camera. The MIOPS Smart Trigger has a dedicated output for flash units, as well as a cable that can be connected directly to a PC Sync port. For cameras without the sync port, MIOPS also offers a hot shoe adapter.
Once you've connected your primary flash unit to the MIOPS Smart Camera Trigger, you can use Slave Mode to trigger your other flashes at the same time. This also varies with flash units, so you'll need to check the manual.
Before you attempt to photograph hummingbirds, it's very helpful (not to mention enjoyable) to spend time observing them first. After all, you’re here to appreciate nature and the stunning sights that it can offer. With any field of photography, knowing your subject is a must, and hummingbird photography is no exception.
Ethics and Responsibility
Despite the energy and liveliness of hummingbirds, they are delicate creatures that need to be treated with care. While it can be tempting to "capture and release" wildlife for photography, the welfare of your subjects should always come first.
Part of the challenge of wildlife photography is minimizing your impact on the environment. This will give you the opportunity to get to know your subjects and capture images that truly reflect their unique attributes.
Research about hummingbirds' most likely locations.
There are multiple resources online where you can get the right information that you need about locating hummingbirds. One of the most popular sites is managed by Audubon Society, an organization that protects birds and the places and sanctuaries where they grow and thrive. Audubon’s database answers the frequently asked questions about this magnificent bird species, including their location, conservation, and rehabilitation efforts.
Observe the hummingbirds' behavior patterns.
Like most birds, hummingbirds tend to follow a routine. They will frequent certain areas to rest and feed. You can observe them and find out if these areas will give you good composition. If this is the case, you may not need to set up a background for your photos.
Practice no-contact photoshoot using a remote trigger
As mentioned earlier, hummingbirds are delicate creatures and you have to make sure that you’re not disrupting their habitat or putting their lives in danger. As a photographer and a nature lover, you have to be more responsible. One of the best ways to make sure that you’re not harming your subjects is using a no-contact approach, made possible through a remote trigger. Additionally, while capturing hummingbirds can be exciting, waiting for hours to catch a glimpse of these birds isn't a great use of your time.
So what can a remote camera trigger do to solve these two issues?
MIOPS Smart Trigger has a time-lapse function that you can set up to automatically take photos when it detects motion. This means that you don’t have to be present or disrupt the bird’s habitat in order for you to take a successful shot.
The sensors are also highly customizable, so you don't have to worry about the sensors being set off by wind or another irrelevant movement.
Take impossible photos by turning your camera into a high-speed capture device!
Additionally, MIOPS remote trigger has a built-in Laser Mode that detects motion. Using this highly sensitive sensor, your camera can capture a bird in flight as soon as they break through the laser. The same function can be applied to your flash unit’s wireless trigger and signal it to burst.
Most importantly, you can connect your MIOPS trigger device to your smartphone for more customization. Through a dedicated mobile phone app, you can adjust the timing of the shot, trigger delay, and even single to multiple shots. You can also opt for a sequence shot so you won’t miss a single moment. Simply set up your camera, program the MIOPS Smart Camera Trigger, and review the photos at your leisure.
Construct Feeders to Attract Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds will be more amenable to being photographed in a safe, comfortable environment. You can do this by offering them food and shelter.
There are many inexpensive and effective feeders available on the market. Fill the feeder with fresh nectar every few days, and make sure to keep it clean. Choose a feeder that will make a good background for your photos.
Try introducing hummingbird attracting flowers
If you want to create your own hummingbird sanctuary and a place where you can easily observe them, ready your green thumb. Hummingbirds love flowers! The sweet nectar and bright colors keep them coming back for more.
Hummingbirds and flowers are a fitting match, visually, and provide the perfect backdrop for your photos. Flowers also attract insects that can pollinate the area and supplement the hummingbirds' diet.
Try planting richly colored flowers such as zinnias, lupines, petunias, and cardinal flowers. Flowers that are native to the area are best since they're recognizable to the hummingbirds and are more likely to flourish under the conditions.
Your introduction to nature photography is just a click away
MIOPS’ devices have a lot to offer when it comes to exploring the possibilities of nature photography. Aside from hummingbird photography and the different modes that you can use for a successful nature shoot, MIOPS camera triggers and MIOPS accessories can also help introduce you to other subgenres in nature photography.
If you want to know more about the products that can up your game in the different photography types, taking the first step is just a click away. Let’s help you get started by clicking this link.
Blog Credit: Charm Villalon
Charm is a writer and a visual artist. Her drive to share ideas and stories is evident in her background in communication arts and language studies. Years of professional experience in content creation have given her a broad proficiency with the process of engaging online communities. An appreciation for multiple languages and cultures drives her to seek out experiences and capture these moments through her writing, digital art, and photography.