How To Shoot a Hummingbird
30 Jan 2012
Hummingbirds for me are one of the most interesting birds to shoot. It's totally normal to see them in science, math book, magazines, etc. We all have dreamed sometime to shoot at least one. The aesthetic look and the colors in pictures are unique. But, they are hard to catch and shooting them won't be an easy task.
I was on my way to Griffith Park, near Los Angeles. On my way to see if I could find some mountain lions or snakes. I found something else. I found a blooming garden on the top of the hill, with flowers that are not present in other parts of the park. Hummingbirds are some of the species that feed from these flowers. These flowers come from an Aloe Vera plants that grow in the area. Some juices are made from these plants, which are related to agave plants, from which tequila and some nectars come from. You guys wonder, why do the hummingbirds drink so much nectar? Well, research shows that it's healthy. But, by pure observation we can see that these birds need these sugary shots, for all that expense of energy needed. More research shows that a hummingbird can flap its wings from 40-80 times per second. That's a lot of flapping. Thus, more flapping, more drinking.
There are several rules to follow when shooting hummingbirds, which must be followed. Failure to fail at least one rule, it won't make things better. So, rule number one, find a garden or a place with colorful flowers with nectar. One of the signs to know if they have nectar is either bees or hummingbirds come and feed from them. A bright sunny day is a plus, bees and birds don't actually go out on rainy days. Spring is possibly the season of the year for doing this. There are some places on earth that not necessarily have the four seasons. Which means they can be shoot all year long. Isolated place do help. For example, watch out for people playing in park. Some kids and pets, aren't good around hummingbirds.
Second rule, hummingbirds are really sensible. Any slight movement, they will associate it with danger and they'll fly away. So keep a comfortable posture, use a hat to avoid sunburn Be patient! It took me at least three hours one day and four hours another day. But have in mind this phrase: "all good things for those who wait." After 500 shots, only five made it to the last and best round. Hummingbirds do a lot of wing-flapping and, photographers do a lot of shooting. And yes is a lot of shooting but, is not about quantity, is about QUALITY. Shooting in RAW format is much better from the resolution. And it's another plus because some pictures may require color correction.
Third rule, use a manual camera. A snapshot or point-and-shoot won't do the job. My first hummingbird shot was done with a 70-300mm lens. The shot was cool. But, a 70-200mm with Image Stabilizer (or IS), will give the shot, a little push to make it look excellent. You can always try with other lenses, but, it's all about a long lens with auto-focus and, your camera set on a high-speed shutter. When shooting with a Canon 7D, the zone focus points are a real plus, because it focuses the area chosen. My tip, focus the flower, so when the humming bird takes a sip, it also frames on the focus zone. If this happens, it will grab detail of its feathers and best yet, of the colors. Many people say that one of the coolest things of shooting a hummingbird is the detail and its colors. But the angle shot, does make a difference. You can either shoot straight, tilt or counter-tilt. It's all about the angle that works and looks best. When setting speed and aperture, 1/500 and an f/7.1 in a very sunny day, should do the job. Don't forget you UV filter to avoid color distortion or UV rays trying to damage your pictures.
Fourth rule, when framing the shots, always shoot horizontal. It makes it easier. The framing won't always be perfect. You can always crop the necessary part of the frame. You will find yourself in situations when shooting photography, that's either you capture the moment, or you don't. This is the toughest part, which requires a lot of practice. And just so you know, the chirping sounds of a hummingbird, lets us know that they are coming. So, be ready for when those moments come.
Fifth rule, and very important: respect the hummingbirds. Same as the bees and the hummingbirds, have a symbiotic relationship with plants, that case also applies to us. There's nothing better than to enjoy nature, as wild as it can be, but always keeping distance. Everything in nature has a purpose and an explanation. These birds also get tired of flying, drinking and posing. They will also take breaks due to heavy wing-flapping. While they rest on other branches, they also observe what other places have more, better, and juicier flowers. In the meantime, you want to shoot a hummingbird? Why do it with a gun, when you can do it with your camera.