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How to photograph hummingbirds

In this blog I'll take you through all the steps to successfully capture stunning hummingbirds, a mesmerizing wonders of nature, often called jewels of the rainforest.



Hummingbirds have always fascinated me as they are so different from most birds, their adaptations are incredibly specialized which reflects their unique behaviors and niche that they occupy. Understanding some of the behavioral traits characteristic for hummingbirds is exactly what will enable us to photograph them in all their glory.


First, let's make sure we have all the necessary ingredients in our equation as to be sure we'll be able to get there. First, we need to know our gear inside out, we need to be comfortable with our camera and how to operate it to maximize it's potential and therefore, ensure maximum quality output. Second, we need to know our subjects, understanding their behavior and informing ourselves regarding habitat and locations will enable us to find the hummingbirds and predict their behavior, hence, get that shot that we want. And third, allow ourselves to be creative, use light in our advantage, etc.


Ok, so let's get the boring stuff (technical) out of the way. Glass is one of the most important things when talking about the gear, I'd take old premium, professional glass over newest camera body any time. So, focal length that we'll need on a FF would be at least 400mm reach, ideally more, 400-600mm would be ideal. This will greatly depend on where you're photographing, if it's a wild bird, not used to human presence than it's 400-600mm or more. If you will be photographing hummingbirds at one of the lodges with feeders where hummingbirds are used to people, than you'll be able to get very close and anything between 50-300mm will work beautifully, if I would have to recommend one lens for this scenario than I would say go for 70-200, or 70-300. To freeze motion you'll need high shutter speed, at least 1/2000 which in turn will force you to use quite high ISO if not having enough light. Remember to use back button focus method for in-flight shots.




Now, to the more interesting part, at least to me personally - understanding the species of interest. Even though hummingbirds are incredibly fast, on average they beat their wings 53 times per second, which is astounding, they are also very predictable in their movement. Also, they are usually pretty territorial, fun fact: they are one of the most aggressive birds out there in this regard, they will chase and fight intruders, often in spectacular displays of aerial acrobatics. This means that they have a specific territory (space) that they occupy, and quite often they will have one or few spots where they like to perch. This allows us to preplan our shot in terms of composition etc. If you observe one of these tiny flying fluffs, you'll notice they have a very predictable pattern of feeding and resting, use this to your own advantage and sprinkled with a bit of one of the most important ingredients of wildlife photography, patience, you'll surely be able to photograph them once they come back to their spot.




Regarding the flight shots, well it's about the same, they like to frequent the same flower over and over again in fairly predictable pattern. Also one of the most common (widespread) flowers that majority of hummingbird species are drawn to is lantana and verbena flowers and if you find this flower, especially large bush, rest assured that hummingbird is near by. Here, a same principle will apply, observe the bird, determine it's movement pattern and which flowers it most frequently visits, position yourself accordingly and on a next round when a little buzzer will be on its pollinating mission, be ready and press that shutter.

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