What is the secret of photographing Hummingbirds?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by lamoine_einspahr, Sep 9, 2005.

  1. I was using a Rebel, 100-400LIS on a Bogen tripod with IS off at F5.6, and a EX550 strobe. I can not freeze the wings or get a sharp enough photo to satisfy. 640th of second was the fastest shutter I could use Not enought light was the culprit, but for the next effort, I would like help. What shutter speed will provide stop action on a hovering hummigbird? With that knowledge to start with I can determine if I have or can get the neccessary equpment, lighting or lenses. Thanks! Lamoine
  2. I haven't tried shooting hummingbirds, but I think it's impractical to try and freeze the wings with shutter speed. Flash is the way to go for that - make it your main light source.

  3. I checked after posting, sorry, but this one photo was shot with 800th of second and boosted out of RAW to gain exposure. The Camera was on Manual and I experimented with faster shutter speeds and trying to get the flash to carry the load, but not enough light. I used the high speed focal plane flash mode. It was obviously daylight and too much ambient light to depend totally on flash, by experiment. I tried TV, AV, and P modes. Manual produced the best images. I've seen some very nice hummer photos, and I would like to produce my own. Pride you know. A second EX550 would only gain one stop. I believe I may need two or three stops to get what I want. The starting shutter speed is my start. The Rebel is a GREAT camera, but anything more than 400 ISO is too noisy.
  4. You need to achieve very short flash durations, which means NOT using high speed sync, but rather setting the camera in M mode with the shutter speed set to max X sync, and an aperture that would result in significant (say 2 stop+) underexposure without the flash. Flash duration is minimised by keeping the flash to subject distance short. A long wired or wireless release can help to allow your tripod to be positioned reasonably close without disturbing the bird. There is no practical benefit to increasing ISO, because you will need to use a narrower aperture to reduce the ambient exposure, offsetting the benefit to effective flash guide number. However, using a Better Beamer will increase the flash illumination by concentrating the beam, allowing shorter duration flash. You need to be using your lens at 200mm plus if you use the flash extender, because otherwise the flash beam is too narrow. The other way to boost effective flash power is to add one or more slave flashes.
  5. I use a Canon Powershot A-85 (cheap point and shoot). With the in camera flash on, I set it on Shutter priority mode with a shutter speed of 500th of a second (b/c that's as fast as I can sync my flash with it). I handhold the camera. For some reason I am able to stop the wings in flight. Here is an example:
  6. Another one I shot.
  7. Mark U puts his finger on the vital point, which is that the Canon Speedlites control output by controlling flash duration. I do not know what the full-power duration of the 550EX is, but I would be surprised if it was longer than 1/500 at most, probably more like 1/1000 (we are talking conventional flash here, not HSS which works differently), so if you are close enough to take it down to a low level of output, say 1/32-power which if I remember rightly is the lowest manual setting, you will have a flash duration of no more than 1/16000. OK, the intensity-by-time plot may not look too much like a square pulse at that level, but you see the idea. Should be quick enough to do the job.
  8. Perhaps I should have added that you should be aiming to shoot at the widest aperture consistent with ambient underexposure and a shutter speed of <= max X sync. It can be advantageous shooting when ambient light levels are lower, as it might allow a wider aperture while still underexposing, resulting in the need for a shorter duration flash to illuminate the bird.
  9. I have been experimenting with hummers too as there is a nice aviary only a few minutes from my house. It is going to be hard to freeze the wings entirely. I have tried with and without flash. Flash gives better exposure but as noted, hard to get high shutter speed. The other tactic to take is to get a good exposure and sharp focus on the body/head/eye/beak and consider the blurred wings to be artistic effect.
  10. put the flash as close to the bird as you comfortably can. put the flash on its lowest power setting - lower power flashes are shorter. use the highest sync speed you can. studio lights would be best, but you probably can't do that with a hummingbird...
  11. I once read somewhere that a hummingbird's wings beat at 1500 beats/second. If that is true then very short flash times could be the solution to freezing the wings. I've tried 1/1000 with my 10D and it didn't freeze the wings. Next time I see some hummers in yard and the lighting is good, I'll try 1/1500 and faster to see what happens.
  12. I once read somewhere that a hummingbird's wings beat at 1500 beats/second. If that is true...
    Off by a factor of 30 or so. For most species, wingbeat frequency is on the order of 50/ second (still pretty fast). What Mark U said was just what I would have said. That method will be your best bet to stopping wing motion. But there are lots of other issues with getting nice hummingbird shots. A single flash will give very stark lighting and your chance of getting nice color in the gorget is not good (these are structural colors, highly sensitive to the angle of incident light). Most pros who shoot these birds use multiple flashes (3 or 4), with at least two aimed at the bird and one at the background.
  13. It's as the two Marks have said. It's the flash duration being much shorter than the fastest shutter speed on a "normal" camera that's the key.

  14. i need to get a hummingbug feeder.
  15. The Jo Van Os photo safari business website has a great article in the archives on hummingbird shoots by Joe McDonald that explains it all in detail. He is a great teacher.

  16. Just like everyone else hear, I concluded that the use of a speedlight or two does the job nicely. My latest attempts I tried using three 1000 (one-thousand) watt spotlights about 5 feet away from the feeder and it resulted in excellent color, but still not enough to stop the wings movement. It was powerful close, but still a little bit of drag. I've included a shot made using my SB-80dx mounted to the body during the middle of the day. A little "flash" looking, but the colors came out suprisingly well. Good luck Lamoine.
  17. Lamoine,

    Most successful hummingbird photography is done with multiple flash units.
    All of my best hummer shots have been made with 3 or more flash units. I hanf
    a feeder behind a bunch of trumpet type flowers. The flowers and the
    humming bird are lit with my main flash on a flash bracket on the camera.
    About six feet behind the feeder I erect a blue sky colored or green plant
    colored back drop. Thia backdrop is lit with two flashes at a 45 degree angle
    to the back drop. You can do a search of hummind bird photography and you
    will find diagrams and pictures of many similar types of set ups. It sounds
    complicated but its not. It takes a lot of shots to get a good one but its worth it.

    God's light to you and good luck

  18. I haven't done a lot of hummingbird photography but here's what worked for me...

    Get a flash unit as close as possible to the feeder or flowers. Flash duration and, to a related extent, proximity, affects the freezing of action. The shorter the flash duration, the more effectively you can freeze action. And, generally, the shorter the flash duration, the nearer the flash will need to be to the subject.

    If you don't have a telephoto lens, use a blind to hide in. If you have a telephoto, use it. Or both.

    You don't need anything special as a remote flash rig. A small "peanut" flash with an optical sensor that can be triggered by any other flash will work. You can buy 'em new for under $25. Set it up near the feeder/flowers.

    "Peanut" flashes have one output setting so flash to subject distance will depend on your film and, to some extent, ambient light. I'd use a slower film to allow placing the flash closer to the subject.

    The alternative is to use an ordinary hotshoe flash like a Vivitar 283 or Sunpak 383 and a Wein optical trigger shoe attachment. This will give you greater control over the light. An auto thyrister flash like the Vivitar 283 will adjust pretty well for most purposes to avoid over or underexposure. The Sunpak 383 adds manual output adjustments for greater control up close, which could aid in freezing the motion of the hummers' wings.

    To trigger the remote flash you'll need either a long cord or a flash on the camera. The latter is probably more convenient. However it may provide extra illumination you don't want. Usually, tho', this method worked for me.

    If money is no object, try a Pocket Wizard transmitter and receiver. You might be able to rent a pair if there's a pro shop near you. My local shop rents a pair for $5 a day, well worthwhile to evaluate whether you want to buy.
  19. Gup

    Gup Gup

    I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but here is an observation I have made over the years. Stopping the bird's wings happens more often when the wings are at full-lock (motorcycle jargon for either end of their natural arc). Of course, this is the luck-of-the-draw. Also, lose the feeders, no shot no matter how successful will be as appealing as one of the bird feeding naturally from a flower. I have had some luck in this regard, but don't have a digital camera or a scanner.

    Good Luck!

  20. 1) Use a couple of flashes on LOW power (1/32 to 1/64 power) If a flash has a GN of 120' at full power and ISO 100 then at 1/4 power it is 30 and at 1/16 power it is 15 and at 1/32 power it is 7.5' at ISO 100. This means a flash 1' from the bird will be f8 or so for exposure on ISO 100 film from a single flash. If you are in full midday sun your background is at f16 and 1/125 sec or so and you are OVEREXPOSED. Add a second flash and you get a GN which is 1.4X7.5 = about 10-11' or at one foot f11. If your synch speed is 1/250 sec and you are in full sun in the background the background is properly (not good!) exposed and your hummer is showing lots of blur from the daylight exposure. This brings us to point (2).

    2) Shoot in the shade where ambient light is at f4 at the highest synch speed available. Use 3 flashes -- 2 for the bird minimum -- and one for a background light. This prevents ambient blurring (reduces it by 4 f stops.

    3) Just HOW fast is fast enough? For blur-free wingtips on a Rubythroated Hummingbird (sort of a middle of the road hummer for wing speed) you would need 1/45,000 sec. flash duration. For "frozen" wings 1/15,000 sec or so would be fine -- tips not sharp but depth of field would hide it. For 8mm of wingtip motion on an 8x10" print 1/1,500 sec is OK.

    4) How fast is that Flash? At full output most high end name brand flashes are at 1/1000 to 1/500 sec in duration. At 1/16 power they are often 1/5000 of a sec or so -- the light pulse is NOT constant but a complex exponential/gaussian in shape. At 1/64 power the duration is likely to be in the vicinity of 1/10,000 sec. As an example at 1/8 power the Metz MZ-54 has a duration of 1/5,000 sec at 1/4 power it has 1/1,500 sec and at 1/2 power 1/600 sec with a full power duration of 1/200 sec! If you had a constant output the 1/8 power duration would be 1/1,600 sec based on the full power duration or 1/3,000 sec based on the 1/4 power duration. As the duration goes down further the trend reverses again but the MZ-54 only goes down to 1/8 power -- not the flash of choice for hummies!

    5) What lens should I use? 100mm macro is generally too short and 300mm too long -- use a 200mm macro or a 200mm with an extension tube. Manually PreFocus and shut OFF the AF! Use a remote release and keep the MIRROR LOCKED UP!

    6) Why Mirror Lock Up? About 50-100 milliseconds before the shutter runs (actually usually longer) the mirror flips up and Mr. Hummie sees this and usually moves! How far can he move? How about 4-8"? At 60 mph he is moving 1056"/sec, at 10 mph he is doing 176"/sec and in 1/10 sec he has moved nearly 18"!!! Yes, but he was standing STILL -- OK so he wastes 1/2 that time reacting and only gets to go 9." This probably means that he is now 25% or so out of your image!!!! Mirror lock-up flummoxes his chances to see the mirror move or hear it and he cannot get out of the way fast enough to avoid the photo.... ;)

    7) TTL or not to TTL? NO TTL!!!! NO TTL!!! Hummies are high contrast critters -- light bellies often and reflective throats/feathers -- TTL is a lottery based on how the bird is positioned. Use a flash meter and Manual Flash!

    I am certain I have forgotten something but.....

    Hope this helps a bit,

    Grover Larkins
  21. First time hummer photo. I have a feeder right outside my kitchen window and was able to photgraph with the window open. The flash washed out some of the colors. I 'll have to work on that next year when they come back.

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