I’m always wondering why some of us are compelled to pick up a camera and photograph something, whatever it might be. As it’s hot where I live and I seem to want to stay out of the heat my first choice is to photograph the hummers from my porch. In early June I had about 15 of them at two feeders right off my porch. A week or so ago most of them moved on, but I still have three that are hanging around, females, and I’m hoping they might nest here. It’s certainly easier to feed three of them, they are thirsty little guys!
I’ve photographed many hummingbirds, mostly Anna’s as they frequent the Pacific Coast and I live in their area. I see many beautiful shots of hummers at flowers, which I only try for occasionally. Most of my shots are simply hummers in the air doing what hummers do.
I’ve come to realize that for me that it is not about the flower and the bird and a beautiful shot of the two (although I love those shots, too), but more about the action of the bird and how it moves through the air so effortlessly. Thus, my shots are simply birds in the air doing hummingbird acrobat maneuvers. I always take out the feeder using a variety of methods, so I shoot when the bird is approaching the feeder or leaving the feeder to leave me space to work with.
I try to grab the shot of the bird in a variety of different ways, hoping I get something somewhat different, although I like any shot I can get. My favorite shots are the little guy (guy is a California term I think) bringing her/his feet up for a landing, or when she/he is turning away if I can get that. They are fast little birds and I have not been able to get two of them in action, but I have not given up on that. In past years I’ve shot them at a high enough shutter speed, mostly 1/3200, to stop the action, so they sort of hang in the air without wing motion. This year I’m experimenting with getting wing motion, so I’ve used shutter speeds from 1/800 to 1/2500 to see what happens with the wing motion. With the slower speeds it takes more shots to get something that works out as the tiny little wings can get lost in that slowed down motion.
I’m currently using a Nikon Z8, a camera that I recently purchased and loved the minute I picked it up. It’s the perfect weight, unlike the Z9 I got last year, and the camera is lightning fast. I use a Nikon 500PF but do have a long lens made for the mirrorless camera ordered.I like to hand-hold, not use a tripod, and since I’m fast and the camera is fast I can still get sharp shots. A friend recently came over to photograph and he did use a tripod and he was quite happy with his resultant shots. He uses a Nikon Z7 and his shots were very sharp, too.
Photographing hummers takes some concentration as well as some patience, they flit in and out quickly and I have to pay attention. If I get side-tracked I lose a possible good shot. I watch to see when they are coming down to feed and then I start shooting away, unlike the film days there is no cost, other than time, to taking multiple shots.
I have my camera set on 15fps and I focus directly on the hummer and just start shooting until it lands. My finger is poised on the shutter for the take-off and I’ll do the same thing. I shoot in manual mode, I’ve found that f/8 works best for the distance I am away since it’s not too far, maybe 15 or 20 feet, and I use auto ISO. I’ll put the shot in Topaz DeNoise afterwards if needed, this might also include something shot at a low ISO but shot in low light. I’ve found that my cameras, the Z8 or Z9, get a lot of color noise in low light and when I use the Transform slider in LrC this increases noise over all so even a shot with a low ISO needs to be denoised.
I think I am compelled to shoot these lovely little birds because of the action and because I marvel at how swift they are in flight. I’ll probably continue to photograph these hummers off my porch until they move on and as I do I learn more about their behavior and patterns and I love doing that.
More of my hummingbird photos are pictured below.
I've been photographing with serious intent for about 14 years. Twelve years ago I started learning about wildlife photography and I've been hooked on it since then. I still photograph many different subjects, but not usually people unless it's street photography.