How Can I Photograph Hummingbirds When They Move So Fast?

How Can I Photograph Hummingbirds When They Move So Fast?
To photograph hummingbirds well, setting up your environment is key. Prepare a feeder with hummingbird nectar, wait for your local hummer population to pay it a visit and shoot! You will need a good DSLR camera, with a telephoto lens that can zoom, good lighting, and the proper camera settings: 1/2000 for shutter, 400 for ISO, and 1.2 f aperture.  

We’ve all been there. You want to capture a male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird drinking at your Hummingbird feeder. The shutter clicks, and you look down at your screen, and it’s nothing but a blur. Bird photography is tricky, but with patience, research, and the right camera and conditions, you can master the art of photographing Hummingbirds. With that said, let us begin our Hummingbird photography crash course!

Hummingbird Photography Basics

Ideally, to capture a good image, start with natural light, high shutter speed, and an optimal focal length. These are the three basics of Hummingbird photography. Firstly, you will need a DSLR camera (or digital single-lens reflex camera). DLSR reflects the same light through the viewfinder that the lens sees. If the viewfinder looks dark, your photo will be dark.

This lens style removes the surprise of an image that doesn’t look as good as it did in the viewfinder. It would be ideal if you also had a telephoto lens, a fast shutter speed, and a balanced ISO for professional photos. Not sure what any of this equipment or techniques are? Keep reading!

Using a DSLR Camera (like a Nikon)

DSLR Cameras are perfect for nature photography because they have a larger sensor that creates photos that are sharp, clear, and of a higher resolution. Nikon (or Canon) cameras are a great option because they have a robust process that can easily snap clear pictures and allows users to change lenses as needed quickly. Nikon isn’t cheap but worth the price tag for professional-looking nature photography. One of the most important specs to watch when shopping around for a camera is whether it’s a DLSR camera.

Using a Telephoto Lens

If you regularly feed Hummingbirds in your backyard, you know they are skittish birds. The slightest amount of movement leaves them zipping off into the trees. So, use a telephoto lens to ensure you get a good photo without getting too close. These styles of lenses have an extreme zoom that can zero in on the details of a hummingbird without losing clarity.

Have you noticed that it becomes pixelated and fuzzy when you zoom in on something with your camera? You don’t want that. A telephoto lens allows extreme close-ups from far away without losing clarity and sharpness of those good quality photos.

Using a Fast Shutter Speed to capture a hummingbird in action

Using a Fast Shutter Speed

Hummingbird wings flap so fast that they become invisible to the naked eye. A hummingbird flaps its wings around 200 times per second. That’s very, very fast. So how can you capture their wings mid-flight without too much wing-blur? By using a camera with a faster shutter speed. There are two avenues of thought regarding wing-blur and Hummingbird photography. Some photographers want as little wing-blur as possible, like a freeze-motion shot. For these shots, you want to keep your shutter speed at around 1/500 or up to 1/2000 of a second to capture those wings exactly in the moment.

However, some photographers don’t like the freeze shot because it removes the action from the image. A little wing blur is a great way to convey movement while appreciating their wings’ detail. For an action shot with just the right amount of wing blur, set your speed settings to around 1/200. This setting is the sweet spot to capture movement without losing definition. Play around with the camera settings to find which type of shot you like best. It’s all subjective!

Keeping Your ISO Balanced

What’s an ISO, and why does it need to be balanced? Simply put, your camera’s ISO is its sensitivity to light. A low ISO setting of 100 lets in as little light as possible, while a high ISO of 6400 lets in the most amount of light. You must know how to keep your ISO balanced to capture the perfect shot. Since you are taking photos during the day, a low ISO between 200-400 is ideal for keeping the picture nice and crisp. Anything higher than that, and your image will look blurry.

Use Your High-Speed Flash

While the flash function on your camera is primarily used to add light to low light situations, it’s super important in Hummingbird photography. The camera flash and the flash duration will help capture action shots and prevent your photos from looking blurry. While most high-end cameras come equipped with a built-in flash, sometimes that’s not enough. For stunning images, investing in Speed lights and using flash is a great way to capture birds in flight. A shorter flash duration creates stunningly crisp photos of all your backyard critters. And with a long enough telephoto lens, the flash will not bother them.

What Is The Best Way To Photograph Hummingbirds?

It is best to know their patterns and how they move to capture professional-style Hummingbird photos. Hummingbirds are fast, and if you can predict their movements, you are halfway there to capture a great shot! Start by simply observing Hummingbirds at your feeders. Notice how long they perch and indicate they are about to take flight.

Does your hummingbird always fly away to the branch of a nearby tree? That can give you a little sign of where to point your lens once it takes flight. Since everything happens so quickly, always take advantage of your camera’s autofocus functionality (instead of a manual mode) so you don’t waste valuable time tinkering with settings trying to capture the perfect shot.

Are Hummingbirds Hard To Photograph?

Are Hummingbirds Hard To Photograph?

Photographing Hummingbirds is challenging, but with patience, you can do it! The great thing about modern cameras is that it does much of the heavy lifting for you; all you need to do is tinker with your settings. When you start, go for the simple and easy shots first. Don’t just immediately jump into the deep end of the pool! Start with photos of perched Hummingbirds on your feeders.

Still, photographs are more manageable, but they are still impressive. Once you have mastered still photos, move up to action shots. Patience is key here. The perfect action shot of a Hummingbird takes time. Research tutorials, study other wildlife photographers’ work, and ensure you are stocked on sugar water!

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer that loves her backyard birdfeeders. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee, watching cardinals, blue jays, finches, and chickadees munch away at her backyard offerings. Her fascination with birds began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma's house watching and identifying birds. She has since carried her love of songbirds into adulthood and ensures no bird in her yard goes hungry!

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