How to Photograph Hummingbirds

In this article I’ll share with you one technique on how to photograph Hummingbirds in your Backyard!

If you do a search on Youtube, you’ll find several different techniques on how to photograph Hummingbirds. One that I find frequently is using 3-4 flashes, a single flower, and a background. I’ll be honest with you, I struggle with that technique so I’ll show you how I photograph Hummingbirds using one flash, natural light, real and fake flowers. Read on.

I have a garden right next to my shed. I shoot out of my shed so I don’t have any issues attracting the hummers to where I need them. I also use a wagon that I planted flowers in which allows me to relocate the flowers anywhere I want to, which is useful for the morning and evening sun, or changing up the background.

how to photograph hummingbirds

Notice the small Red cap on the wagon? I fill it with sugar water which brings the Hummers into my flower wagon. I painted one side Black which helps me line up the shot. Hummers are attracted to the color Red and believe it or not they hardly use the Black side of the cup. This allows me to position the birds facing into the Sun and illuminating them.

I started out placing a regular feeder on the wagon to attract the birds, then switch out to a smaller feeder, like the small cap in the picture, then eventually removing the feeder all together.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

If you want to get some shots of them actually feeding from a flower you’ll have to remove all the sugar water. The birds will freak out for a minute but hopefully they will sip from the flowers and thats when you get the shots.

juvenile ruby throated hummingbird

What You Will Need

  • Camera obviously
  • Zoom or Prime Lens
  • Tripod with a gimbal head or handhold
  • A flash with HSS if you want to use flash (High Speed Sync)
  • Flowers that attract Hummingbirds
  • A Hummingbird Feeder with sugar water
  • A hiding place
  • Sunlight
  • Lots of patience!

How to Photograph Hummingbirds

The first thing you need to do is to attract the Hummingbirds, that is normally accomplished by placing one or several feeders filled with sugar water in your yard. In the beginning the feeders can hang from a Shepherds hook or you can place them on something, You can place them anywhere to get started. Once you have Hummers in your yard, you’ll want to redirect them to the location you’ll be when you’re ready to photograph them.

Determine the best location to shoot from by observing the sunrise and sunset locations. If you’re not going to use some fill flash you’ll need some good lighting to enhance the hummers colors, and be able to use a fast shutter speed if you want to capture a lot of wing detail.

Find a place to hide. I hide in my shed and shoot through an open door covered with camouflaged burlap. I cut a hole in the burlap not only large enough to stick my lens through, but large enough to allow a good field of view. Occasionally I shoot from a pop up hide but it gets pretty hot in the summer.

Once you have the birds coming to the feeder, remove the feeder and replace with a single flower or a potted plant. Again, Hummingbirds are attracted to the color Red so look for those when shopping for a plant.

It doesn’t hurt to squirt a little bit of sugar water in the flower to entice the hummer to sip from it. Dont apply to much or the flower will droop. When the hummer returns it will be looking for the feeder filled with sugar water but wont find it so it will buzz around and probably leave. Don’t fret, it will return. Once the hummer begins sipping from your plant your in good shape.

OK, lets get ready to photograph the bird. Set the shutter speed as high as you can without raising the ISO too high. A high ISO will create a lot of noise in the photo which will detract from the clarity of the image. Normal f/stop is 5.6 to 8. My average settings are 1/4000 and up with an f/stop of 6.3 and an ISO of 2500.

Before firing off some frames, take a moment and observe the hummers behavior. Normally it will go in and sip nectar, back out, go back in and may repeat this process a few times before it flies away. This behavior will usually result in 2 different shots, one with the birds head in the flower and the other with the bird backed out looking at the flower.

Its important to observe which flower(s) the Hummer visits too and why I bring that up is because if you have a lot of flowers, the Hummer may hit them all and you’ll be chasing it around with your camera and never get a good shot. Concentrate on one flower or bloom at a time. Auto focus on that flower or bloom so when the bird comes back, you’ll be able to respond a lot faster. If you get some good shots focus on a another flower. Trust me, trying to follow the bid around the garden is difficult and not necessary.

The main thing to aim for is a sharp in focus eyeball. Check to ensure the eye is in focus. If the body and wings are in focus but the eyeball isn’t, try again. Next, take a look at the lighting. Is the bird well lit? Check your background. Is it busy and competing with the bird?

If you’re going to use a flash, the flash and camera will need to be able to support HSS, or High Speed Sync which simply means the flash will evenly light the frame at any shutter speed you choose. Normal sync speed is 1/200 -250 which is way to slow if only using fill flash. If you’re using a multiple flash set up them 1/250 will work but that’s a whole different post.

Depending on the lens you use and how close you can get to the bird, you may need to invest in some extension tubes. These short tubes reduce the minimal focus distance of your lens, much like a macro lens

Tips on Photographing Hummingbirds

*Try to photograph the bird while it’s in the Sunlight. Otherwise it will be dark and dirty looking.
*If the bird has a Gorget, the Sun will light it up. See the second image above.
*Use the fastest shutter speed you can. When photographing the birds using natural light, 99% of the time the wings will be blurry. A slow shutter speed will make the wings look strange, almost invisible.
*Try to keep the background as clean as possible so the bird is the main subject and not a bunch of branches. A background that’s too distracting makes it difficult to see the small bird.
*I strive to only post images that show the eye. Although you may be excited or proud that you finally got a shot of a Hummingbird, photos of a bird without an eye or a head dont really work too well, although non photographers will say what a stunning photo it is.
*Speaking of the eye and I have mentioned this before in other post, see the Sun in the birds eyes I posted? That’s a bonus. It’s called a catchlight. This catchlight really brings the eye to life. Not only do we want the catchlight in our bird photos, but humans also.

Although the Hummer in the image above isn’t showing an eye, it’s still a cool shot. I would probably share this on social media.

In the above image the Sun is too high in the sky and I placed a flower pot in the background. Pretty, but from a photographic standpoint it doesn’t work. Also, the bird blends into the background.

In the above image I used a fake flower. You may say, “I would never do that”, but if you cant have a garden or get the plants you need, a fake flower will do the trick. When using a fake flower, be sure to drip some sugar water on it. This will keep the bird coming back for more. It may be necessary to blur out a section of the fake flower so it isn’t too noticeable because there will be folks on social media calling you out.

Well I hope you take away something from this article that helps you get started or improves your Hummingbird photography. Again, this is just one technique on how to photograph hummingbirds

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