Tips for Taking Hummingbird Pictures
Professional bird photographer shares his photography tips for taking pictures of hummingbirds.
Story and photos by Mike Matthews
Professional bird photographer shares his photography tips for taking pictures of hummingbirds like this broad-billed hummingbird.
Hummingbirds might not seem like easy birds to photograph, but they are. All you have to do is learn a few tricks.
I was a teenager when my fascination with photographing birds started. My parents had recently given me a camera, and I began taking pictures of the birds at our feeders. Today, I'm a professional wildlife photographer, and birds still fascinate me.
Hummingbirds and birds of prey are two of my favorite subjects to photograph. I've been a falconer, working with raptors, for several years. Then last year, my wife and I had the opportunity to go to southeast Arizona to see and take pictures of hummingbirds.
Over the years, I've learned a lot of tricks for taking pictures of birds. Here are a few of my best suggestions for getting great hummingbird photos. Just remember, it takes a lot of images to get one great shot. I sometimes shoot more than 200 images a day just to get three or four that are keepers. So be patient, and have fun. Before you know it, you'll find that hummingbirds are easier to photograph than you thought!
Take a look at lighting.
Always try to shoot early or late in the day to get the best possible lighting. In addition, if you can position yourself with the sun at your back, the light will illuminate the hummingbird you are trying to photograph. Cloudy days are great for shooting all day, which keeps you from competing with the shadows of the midday sun.
Male ruby-throated hummingbird
Learn the secret of the close-up.
It's not always easy to get close to hummingbirds, but here's a trick that always seems to work for me. I use a pop-up camouflage blind. This allows me to get close to the hummingbirds without spooking them. If you don't have a blind to use, try opening a window and put up a large piece of cardboard. Then cut a hole for your lens.
The tripod is your friend.
There's no way getting around it. Using a tripod is a must if you want sharp, clear pictures. Here's a good rule of thumb—once you have your tripod set up, focus on the eye of the hummingbird before you take your picture. If the eye is in focus, then you have a better chance of taking a great photo. You can have the best pose in the world, but if the eye isn't as sharp as a tack, then it's just another picture—not a keeper.
Take photos on your own time.
If you have multiple hummingbird feeders in your backyard, you might want to try taking some of them down—except the one you want to photograph. This way, you can concentrate hummingbird activity at one particular feeder.
I like to take the last feeder down the night before and not put it back out until I am ready to photograph the next morning. The birds will definitely notice. You'll find that the hummingbirds are usually buzzing around just after daylight, looking for the missing feeder. Then when you put it up, they'll flock to it!
Female ruby-throated hummingbird
Conquer the dominant.
There is almost always one dominant male hummingbird in your backyard, and he can be very territorial about which birds feed at the feeder. Usually, he will sit somewhere in close proximity to keep watch.
Use this to your advantage. Take a small branch without leaves on it and tie it to your feeder pole or just off to the side, a few feet higher than the feeder. Within minutes, the dominant hummingbird will likely be perching there. Now he will have easy access to the feeder, and you will have a place to focus on to get great photos.