In the world of bird photography, the hummingbird is certainly one of the most challenging to photograph. This jeweled bundle of energy has the ability to zoom around at record breaking speeds causing frustration for many a photographer. This article is written to help give you some tips so you can take better hummingbird pictures.
Setting out the Welcome Mat
Most places in North America are visited by hummingbirds, some year round, others seasonally. Your local Audubon Society can tell you when to set the feeders out. You can also find out if the hummingbirds in your area migrate so you can remove the feeders in time for the hummingbirds to migrate and avoid freezing in the cold.
Every serious hummingbird photographer needs a hummingbird feeder. When looking for a feeder, make sure you have one that is easy to clean and that it is easy to fill with sugar water.
Most birders suggest using 4 parts water to 1 part sugar or you can also try using a 3:1 mixture as well. Keep the feeders filled so that the hummingbirds don’t head to a more reliable nectar station. Don’t forget to remove the feeders regularly for cleaning and then put them right back up. Remember to never use food coloring because it is not needed to attract them and can cause a dangerous growth on the hummingbirds beaks that can harm them.
Feeders, Perches and Flowers
The biggest challenge with taking hummingbird pictures is that they rarely hold still. They are almost constantly darting here and there. Many photographers make the mistake of trying to follow them with their camera in hand. However don’t try following the hummingbirds but instead be patient and stay in one location.
You want to think about the kind of bird pictures you want and then set things up to help increase your chances of getting the shot. After that, it’s a matter of getting comfy and having your camera ready. Many photographers use tripods or monopods so the camera’s always ready. Some photographers use blinds so they can move without worrying about scaring off a hummingbird.
If you want photographs of hummingbirds hovering, remove the perches from your feeders. Although this may seem a little mean, if you plug up all of the holes on the feeder but one it will make it easier to get a good hummingbird picture. You will still have hummingbirds zipping around trying to chase off the other birds from the feeder regardless of what you do.
Now if you want to take a picture of a hummingbird perching, watch where the dominant male goes after he gets a drink at the feeder. Usually he will perch where he has a good view of his feeder. If the perch isn’t in a good position for you to take pictures, you’ll need to do some rearranging. Try moving the feeder near a perch so you can get a better picture.
Or move it farther from the natural perches and add a perch near it in a photo friendly location. As long as the hummingbird can keep a watchful eye for predators, it won’t mind relocating. Eventually the hummingbirds will get used to you and your camera, but movement will likely frighten them off so make sure you’re in a quiet area with very little activity.
If you have a beautiful flower that the hummingbirds never visit (and would make a great photo), try using an eye dropper and gently fill the flower with some sugar water. This only works for a short time because the flower will begin to wilt after just a few hours.
As with feeders and perches, you can also hang a basket of flowers to help attract them for photographing. However no matter if you use a flower or feeder, you’ll still only have about 8 seconds tops to take your pictures. Always be patient and don’t press the shutter release until the hummingbird has a had a sip of nectar or sugar water. If your flash frightens them off, it’s likely they won’t return to the feeder.
The best type of background for taking hummingbird pictures is something dark green that doesn’t have any noticeable distractions like branches or twigs. If you want a “moveable” background try a dark green potted plant or even a large green painted poster board. The best thing you can have is a dark background so the hummingbirds bright colors can really stand out.
If you look for hummingbird pictures in google images you’ll get a good idea of what backgrounds work and what doesn’t. Hummingbirds will often fade into green or busy backgrounds making it impossible for them to stand out. A shaded area behind the feeder or perch also works well as a good background.
You can use photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop Elements, to blur the background and make the hummingbird stand out from the background.
Adobe has tutorials on this on their website.
Lights, Camera, Action
After you have things set up it’s just a matter of finding a nice, comfy place to sit nearby with your tripod and camera. In order to freeze their beating wings, you will need a high speed flash but you can still get some great pictures with a good compact camera by using these tips.
Remember, hummingbirds may be the most challenging subject in bird photography, but with some patience you will soon have a nice collection of hummingbird photography to frame and display in your home.