The most challenging subject in the world of bird photography is the hummingbird. 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.
Set out the Hummingbird Welcome Mat
Most places in North America have hummingbirds either seasonally or year round. Just ask your local Audubon Society on when you should put out your hummingbird feeders. You can also find out from them if the hummingbirds in your area need to migrate, and if so, when you should take your feeders down so they don't get stranded 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. However you should take them down periodically to clean but put them right back up. Also never use food coloring because it can cause dangerous growth on the hummingbirds beaks and it's not needed to attract them.
Hummingbird Feeders, Perches and Flowers
The biggest challenge with taking hummingbird pictures is that they rarely hold still. Hummingbirds are constantly zooming and darting so it makes it difficult to photograph them. Many photographers make the mistake of trying to follow them with their camera in hand. However, don't do that as it is best staying in one position and being patient.
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 you're all set up, all you have to do is have your camera ready and get comfortable. Many photographers use a stabilizer device like a tripod or monopod so the camera is always ready for the next shot. 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. And if you plug all the holes but one it will be easier to get a pictures of one hummingbird at a time. 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 pictures of hummingbirds perching, watch where the dominant male goes after he fills up at the feeder. Usually, hummingbirds will perch where they have a good view of the feeder. If the perch isn't in a good position for you to take pictures, you'll need to do some rearranging. Move the feeder closer to a perch that works for you.
You can also move it farther from the natural perches and add a new perch that is in a photo friendly location. The hummingbird won't mind as long as he or she can keep an eye out for intruders. 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 particular flower that would make a lovely picture with the hummingbird but they are never there long enough for you to press the shutter release, try this photographer's trick: Using an eye dropper, 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. Otherwise if the flash frightens them off, they won't have as much incentive to venture back.
Check Your Background
The best background for hummingbird photography is something dark green that doesn't have any distractions in it like brown twigs or branches. If you want a mobile background try a dark green potted plant or a painted poster board. The main thing is to have a dark background that makes the hummingbird's colors pop.
If you look for hummingbird pictures in google images you'll get a good idea of what backgrounds work and what doesn't. Note how brilliantly colored hummingbirds fade into some backgrounds, like the bright green, sun lit trees and shrubs. 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.
You can also find tutorials on this on websites like Adobe.
Lights, Camera, Action
Once you have your hummingbird feeding station set up, now you just need to find a comfy place to sit with your camera and tripod. 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.
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