Photographing hummingbirds: My settings

Everything about it

To be honest, and contrary to what I read online, photographing hummingbirds was not as difficult as I thought it would be. That been said, it is not easy task (I said: “not as difficult as I thought it would be”) and a lot has to come into play in order for you to come up with a good picture. Lighting is crucial, almost as crucial as understanding your camera controls. Let’s talk about three of the main components behind every great shot.

 

First things first: I shoot RAW. Simply put, Raw files contain much more information (data/pixels) than JPEG files. When you shoot in JPEG the camera does its own processing to convert the data in the RAW file into a JPEG. Problem is, your camera is nowhere near as smart as your brain, nor is it as powerful as your computer. Shooting RAW allows you to process the image as pure as when it is first created, without the camera touching the file at all. I have been using Lightroom since I started taking pictures but pretty much any software out there able to process RAW files will do.

 

Shutter

This one is key

I have discovered that some hummingbirds don’t actually move their wings as fast as others do, meaning, a fixed shutter speed does not work. Because of this, I like to range my shutter speed starting at 1/2000 sec and up. A preference of mine is to capture some movement on the wings. Hummingbirds usually don’t stay still while flying, and even if they do while eating/drinking from a flower, a slower than 1/2000 sec shutter speed more likely won’t work, because it might capture the bird’s body but not its wings. I have use a shutter speed of up to 1/6000 sec. To put things into perspective, according NPS “The Giant Hummingbird beats its wings 10-15 times per second. The fastest recorded rate is about 80 beats per second. North American hummingbirds average around 53 beats per second in normal flight.” 

Hummingbird in flightier from Jadielblog.com
Hummingbird in flight from Jadielblog.com

ISO

You are right, THAT’S FAST! Why not going all the way up to 1/8000 sec then, or 1/4000 sec for older/entry level cameras? Well, the problem is the ISO. It is not secret that when photographing wildlife, you will end up cropping, and bird photography is not the exception. ISO MUST be as low as possible, and I trust my camera enough to leave it on AUTO, at least at first.

 

Aperture

Ninety nine percent of the time, for hummingbirds, I shoot wide open, that is f/5.6. Hummingbirds are small, and I am far enough to get them fully focused. Remember, the more light you can get the better. Smaller aperture means higher ISO.

Hummingbird in flightier from Jadielblog.com
Hummingbird in flight from Jadielblog.com

Focusing

I recommend switching focus from shutter button (by half pressing the shutter) to the AF-ON back button (name varies across brands, but functionality is the same). It has made a world of a difference when focusing on little hummingbirds! Please keep an eye on out for an upcoming article on this.

Focusing is always on AI SERVO (or equivalent for other camera brands).

 

Drive Mode

There is no going wrong here. You can shoot Single Shot or High Speed continuous, although the second one might increase your chances of, if focused, going back home with a couple of extra good shots. I switch back and forth all the time.

Hummingbird in flightier from Jadielblog.com
Hummingbird in flight from Jadielblog.com

Hummingbirds are hard to spot let along to photograph. The chances of seeing a hummingbird in the wilderness with the right lighting while being camera ready are 1 in 1000, and still a few tries are needed in order to get a decent shot. So, play smart! Research where they can be seen locally and pay them a few visits. Also, buy a birdfeeder and attract them to you. If you should take away anything from this post let it be this: a picture of a hummingbird is a picture of a hummingbird regardless of the setting and circumstances around it. A “stage” shot of a hummingbird is not any different from a “stage” shot of model in a studio.

 

Feel free to comment below your impressions on this post.

 

Happy shooting!

Sunset Photography: My Tips

It is common practice among photographers to set the ISO to AUTO. Although this is useful in many scenarios (Example: wildlife, landscape photography, etc.) giving the ISO “free will”, in this instance, can prevent you from capturing the beautiful colors otherwise only visible with your eyes. That been said, keep in mind that there is no right nor wrong way of capturing sunsets. At the end it is all about personal taste.

 

ISO

When photographing sunsets I like to set the ISO to 50 (or 100). By setting a low ISO I am making sure that the camera won’t compensate the lack of light for me.

 

Shutter

I tend to use a slow shutter speed somewhere between 60 – 125. Using a higher shutter speed will result in even less light considering that I am using the lowest ISO possible. At the same time, using a slower shutter speed will allow more light but it almost requires a tripod (or very solid surface) due to the blur produced by the longer exposure.

 

Aperture

Aperture is key. I use it to set the exposure that, at the end, will give me the desired result. The secret is to move the aperture to one or two steps below the proper exposure so that I can capture all the fading colors. Lowering the exposure will also result in silhouettes which I absolutely love!

 

When purposely lowering the exposure my goal is no longer to capture detail but color and silhouettes.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article there is no right nor wrong way of capturing sunsets. Playing around with the different elements involved in capturing light (ISO, Shutter, Aperture, Exposure) will break nothing but the frontiers of your imagination.

Try it!

Osprey fishing

Try God

Many of you ask me “what do you do to be at the right time in the right place in order to capture these animal pictures?” Well, I just pray. Every little thing, every experience, can be a spiritual experience.

I talk to God before leaving home to take pictures, while driving, and also while in the wilderness by myself not only for protection but also to take me to the right spot where I can take the pictures. He is the creator of every living creature and they obey him. I use that in my favor 😎.
And although I don’t always come back home with the pictures I wanted/dreamed of I never return empty handed. Talking to God never ever leaves me empty!
I challenge you to talk to Him and ask Him for advice in those things you wish to improve. What would you lose anyway? Do the math :).

Mission of Hope

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Mission517 visits a rural school every year. For a whole week missioners spend time painting the selected school (more pictures to come) and prepare the facility for the new scholar year. Although the length of the trip is about 10 days, most of the luggage taken by missioners is full of school supplies for the kids. At the end of the week, students are welcome back to their “better looking” facility as they receive a bag-pack full of all kind of school supplies. This project has been going on for almost 10 years now. It has been another way of helping the community of tamarindo besides providing free healthcare at the same time. As a result, every year people await for Mission517 to come back because they know that help and hope come along.

The 2019 Costa Rica Mission Trip Photo book is available by clicking in the picture above.