Technique for Taking Hummingbird Pictures
Amateur bird photographer shares his process for taking hummingbird pictures.
Story and photos by Mark BettisTechnique for Taking Hummingbird Pictures
Amateur bird photographer shares his process for taking hummingbird pictures like this ruby-throated hummingbird.
Photographing hummingbirds is like going fishing with a cane pole. Both require the "sit, watch and wait" technique.
With fishing, you're eagerly waiting for something to take your bait, giving the slightest bit of action to your bobber. This is similar for hummingbirds, too, though your bait becomes a flower, and your fishing pole translates to a camera.
When I photograph these amazing birds, I cast my focus on a single flower and then wait for one to take the bait. It can take a while, but once one shows up, I snap as fast as I can until it's gone. Sometimes, hummingbirds only stay for seconds at a time, so you always have to be ready.
I first became interested in photographing hummingbirds while preparing for a trip to Alaska. I was planning to photograph whales there, and I knew I needed to practice taking speed shots if I wanted to get any good photos.
You only have seconds to capture a whale photo, and since hummingbirds are quick and flighty, I thought they'd be perfect for practice. It worked great. I got plenty of great whale shots and lots of good pictures of hummers.
The following spring, I decided to try to improve my technique. Soon, I was spending all my spare time on my patio and deck, shooting photos of the hummingbirds.
My wife had filled the area with colorful flowers, so I got a couple of good shots right away. But then the traffic tapered off, and my patience grew pretty thin.
Then it suddenly occurred to me why the numbers were low. We had a hummingbird feeder up, so, of course, they preferred its convenience to the flowers! I removed the feeder, hoping it would send the birds back to the blooms.
It worked like a charm! For about the first 15 minutes or so after removing the feeder, the deck flowers were abuzz with hummers. Sitting in a lawn chair with the camera remote in my hand, I was shooting these speedy birds like nobody's business.
Thanks to my digital camera and its delete feature, my success rate was about 40 to 50%. My so-called bad shots contained birds out of focus, exposure problems, or sometimes the bird was absent from the picture altogether. This was mostly my fault, though. I sometime had a slow reaction on the snap. So if I had even the slightest pause, I often missed my picture.
I've taken more than 2,000 hummingbird pictures that I consider keepers. But in all fairness, I deleted an equal number of photos as well.
I like to name some of my best photos, much like an artist would name their painting. I've dubbed one "Reflections" because of the way the red bloom is reflecting on the bird's belly. Photographing hummingbirds is not only fun, but also addicting. I can't wait to see what I "catch" this summer.