Photographing a Hummingbird in Flight – Useful Tips

I did not slow motion the hummingbird at all in the one minute video above, but included stills from my DSLR to give the little girl a break. And boy, is she a mover and a shaker. You can see how fast the wings move in the video and see my photos from my DSLR below, which stopped the wings mid-flight.

Way up in the French Lilac.

Enjoy the photos that I have yet to publish. Many I have published already were the ‘beauty shots’.  These were taken with my Nikon D7000, not the video camera, but I cropped them to video format. Click any to enlarge.

Just a tip for those unable to freeze capture hummingbirds in flight in camera …

shoot video. Then take frame shots from your video in your movie making application. Most newer video cameras have image stabilizing and what Sony has in mine is called Super Steady Shot. My camera is not new, but I shoot so little video, it is not worth me investing in a newer model.

The cover shot in the video is a frame from the video, not too terribly bad huh? You can get some good still images from video if you go frame by frame looking for those in the best focus.

The frame shot in the YouTube video is selected by YouTube, so it probably was not the best focused image. Plus, they really enlarged the image thumbnail, much more than the highly compressed video can handle for a still. But you would be pulling your still from the video pre-compression, so it will be much sharper.

My video camera is a Sony Handicam, a cute little video camera, easy to hold.

Then on the wing.

The Nikon D7000 was set to 1/1250 sec. f5.6, ISO 2000 for fast motion, Shutter Priority. The camera was handheld. Tip: the Vibration Reduction was turned off on the lens. The lens has a hard time focusing with the speedy movement.

Another trick for those of you wanting to get photos of hummingbirds more easily and in good focus, shoot them at a feeder. Even in places where they are plentiful, they use this trick.

When I was in Costa Rica, there were feeders set up at the observatory where I was doing research work. The hummingbirds were a bit less wary of people and about 30 of them would be at each of the four feeders. There were 14 different species of hummingbird too, many more colorful than the Ruby Throated shown here in Niagara Falls, NY.

They would land on your hand if you held it close enough to the feeder. Some landed on my head and others would come up right to the camera lens and hover. It was easy to get a photo of the bird being such willing subjects. I had my Nikon F2, a film camera, for this trip to the mountains and rain forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica. I cannot find my prints and slides of the birds or I would have posted them.

Here in the backyards of America, it is a less likely occurrence to have them land on a person, but the feeder is key if you want great shots.

If you really want to go to a place in the US that gets the birds, go to Madera Canyon in Arizona, known as hummingbird central, like Scott Bourne a well know photographer did early this year. Go see how a pro shoots hummingbirds in the post Photographing Hummingbirds in Madera Canyon Arizona – Part I. Then see his set up in Photographing Hummingbirds in Madera Canyon – Part II.

I think you will be surprised to what lengths he went to get his images. I agree with him it is a hard subject to photograph, but he did not shoot them feeding at their favorite flowers. He set up a feeding station and used stunt flowers to lure them in.  You really should check out his post. I found it having much useful information.

Watch my video and you see why flower feeding is more difficult. At a feeder you almost have them stationary in one spot for an extended time. I don’t even set up my feeders, but I may to get some shots more similar to his.

Feeding at flowers, you have to anticipate their movement and be very ready with your camera set and focused. I find it much more challenging when they are going from flower to flower. With a video camera zoomed in, it is difficult to follow the action also.

Did you know that the hummingbird is the only bird in the world that can fly backwards? They flap their wings in a figure eight pattern at 50 times per second too. I could slow the video down, but it is not a good enough camera to catch the motion clearly.

They feed about every ten minutes and don’t walk for a meal. Their feet are too small for taking a stroll like say a robin does. Thanks to Scott, I got this info from his first post.

A flick of the beak, cool huh?

I did some post processing to vignette the images. I think it makes them a little more appealing. I added blur and a white vignette, it reduces a bit of the flower clutter.

That thin and long tongue pops out at thirteen times a second to lick up nectar. Another little trivia from Scott’s research.

I had this post prepared for a few weeks waiting for… a trip I am on at this time.

I have the previous week’s posts linked here for those that want some additional GWGT weekend reading. Bee Bombing is a funny one. I will see you when I return. There will be a scheduled garden walk post from this year’s Garden Walk Buffalo coming up, so don’t miss it.  Plus another I did from Niagara Falls. So GWGT will refresh while I am away. Going park hopping, you will have to see from where when I return.

And when I return, I have a date with my camera club to shoot hawks, kestrels, falcons, and owls (Snowy, barred, great-horned), some in flight. Plus they have a scarlet macaw. It will be VERY COOL! My cockatoo will be screaming mad over my bird betrayal.

Have a nice weekend, see you when I get back.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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22 Responses to Photographing a Hummingbird in Flight – Useful Tips

  1. Well I will bookmark the post so once I have a DSLR or a video camera I can take these shots…I do not have lots of technology…but I love the shots…my hummers come around every 10 minutes so it was great to see that is the interval and I love watching them fly backward and spin around.

  2. I will have to be content viewing your lovely shots! The hummingbirds around here are very shy. I can’t even get out the door before they disappear. Even when I sit outside, they stay away. But I have been in places where they were a little less humid and I got some decent shots–not as good as yours, but decent. 😉

  3. Thanks for the video, photos, and technical how-to. If ever there was a creature that ALWAYS delights, it’s the hummingbird. Have you ever heard of anyone being upset with one?

  4. I am learning more and more of my camera’s settings with you. thanks!!! I have lots of hummers at my feeders and in the garden on all sorts of blooms. I don’t think I have seen them flick their heads like that, they are so much fun to watch. I get dive bombed when out on the deck where the feeders are.
    On my way over to the pro’s website.

  5. I love the humming birds they are truly a special treat in our garden. Great post.

  6. Brian Comeau says:

    Thank you for sharing Donna. Simple incredible stuff. From time to time I have a hummingbird visit my property but haven’t been very lucky in my attempts to photograph. Thanks for the help. You are an amazing resource!

  7. Truly incredible photographs. The last couple days there have been hummingbirds feeding on the pentas in containers outside the front door. We open the door and there they are, then zip! off they go. Costa Rica sounds a lot like Ecuador, where our son lived for six months, regarding the hummingbirds.

  8. Victor Ho says:

    What a great series of shots! It’s indeed hard to shoot birds in flight. To me hummingbirds are a big challenge. Great tips.

  9. I like how you incorporated stills with your video footage. I rarely video anymore. I don’t have a video function on my camera and my old video camera broke. I just replaced it with a Flip (which apparently is no longer made either). It is pocket size and convenient especially since I use it so rarely. Photographing hummers in action is a real challenge for me. Thanks for the tips and I will check out the site you referenced.

  10. Cathy says:

    How lovely to see these creatures in your own garden… no hummingbirds in Europe, so will just look at your wonderful post again instead! 😀

  11. The last photo is my favorite. Life’s beauty captured again by beautifully-abled hands! Thanks.

  12. Barbie says:

    So amazing – this is so professional! The little humming bird beautifully captured! Love it! THank you for sharing.

  13. jakesprinter says:

    I love your Humming Bird , Beautiful 🙂

  14. Indie says:

    Very awesome! That would be incredible to be in Costa Rica right next to these beautiful birds. I have a DSLR camera so I’ve been able to get several decent shots of hummingbirds. They are so shy though that I’ve had to use a blind to get any shots at all – I take pics from my kids’ playhouse 🙂

  15. Great information. Thank you. I hadn’t considered capturing the photos out of video footage. Your softening of the images worked nice.

  16. HolleyGarden says:

    I can never get a shot of the hummingbirds, even at my feeders. I am just too slow. I think the video trick might be my only shot at getting a good shot! Loved all the little tidbits of information on these birds, too.

  17. I sure admire this photo–I never can get bird images!

  18. I’m going to share these tips with my readers. Thanks!

  19. I love the Then on the wing photo. Magnificent on the iPad—it looks like a sailing ship.

  20. Very interesting lecture and images …. super!

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