Photographing Hummingbirds
Mark Layman

We have a hummingbird feeder attached to the window on our porch, and this morning I spent some time photographing the hummingbirds that visit the feeder.

I didn’t want the camera to close to the feeder for fear it might spook the birds, so put it on my tripod and set it back about 6 feet from the feeder. I used my Tamron 18-200mm zoom lens set it to give a fairly close of view of the feeder but also included enough area to capture the birds in various positions around the feeder.

I focused the camera on the edge of the front feeding-hole flower, then set the camera on manual focus so that the camera wouldn’t have to spend time trying to focus.

The flash sync speed on my camera (Nikon D7100) is 1/250 second which I thought might be to slow to freeze the fast flapping of the hummingbird wings, but I didn’t think the nature light on the porch this morning was going to be sufficient to light up the little birds. So I decided to use the flash and take my chances on the shutter speed being too slow. I put the flash on manual and set it for a distance of 6 feet (which equated to 1/64 of normal flash power).

I put the camera in manual mode, set the shutter speed to 1/250 second to match the flash sync speed, and set the aperture for as wide open as possible (f/6) for the lens and chosen focal length. With the natural light, ISO 800 gave a slightly dark exposure (which I wanted in order to de-emphasize the background), so I fixed the ISO at 800.

Finally, I set the camera for remote release so I could sit inside and take shots when the birds came to the feeder.

I was amazed at the results. The 1/250 second shutter speed was fine. The only editing I did (in Picasa) was to add a little fill light and shadow, which basically means I probably should not have darkened the exposure or I should have increased the flash power. I’ll probably do some more of this hummingbird photography and try out some other camera angles and settings.

I encourage others to try this and other types of wildlife photography. It’s lots of fun and a great way to learn new photography methods.

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