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Top 7 hummingbird photo tips

Posted By Barbara J On July 20, 2011 @ 7:00 am In Photo Tips | 8 Comments

I have been taking photos of these precious birds for about seven years, and through trial & error, a little imagination, and a lot of patience, I’ve walked away with quite a few shots I’m proud of. I hope my tips will help you capture photos you’re proud of, too.

Tip 1: Continuous Focusing
I mostly use continuous focusing on my camera. This will mean not as many frames per second, but I hope to focus on the hummers and come away with some great pictures. My new Sony A55 takes 10 frames per second and lets in more light that my Sony 350. This spring I was so pleased with the result (on auto focus, but not continuous focus). I use my Sony 75-300 zoom lens when taking the photos of this little hummingbird.
Spring, 2011, using my Sony A55


This is a Ruby Throated male hummingbird, I love his little feet perched on this limb while
protecting his feeder! He is just beautiful to my eyes.

Most SLR cameras have an auto-focus setting that will continue to refocus the lens as the subject moves. Enabling this feature will help keep the hummingbirds in sharp focus as they dart through the air. It’s also important to set up your camera to use the center AF point only, and then to keep this center point on the hummingbird at all times. This will prevent the focus from searching and drifting away into the background.

When the hummingbirds are in motion this method works so well. When they are perching on a limb I turn off my continuous focus in order to use the faster shutter speed (10 fps).  I just can’t wait to see what beautiful hummingbird photos await me this fall! I take hundreds of photos at a time.

Tip 2: Always use a fast shutter speed
Because hummingbirds flap their wings so rapidly, you’ll have to use an extremely fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action of their wings (the slowest speed you can get away with on a sunny day is 1/800 sec). Here are a few tips for getting a faster shutter:

Use a higher ISO (try 400 or 800–anything higher will have too much noise). Many DSLR cameras come with extremely fast shutter speeds, and this helps capture that freeze in the wings. There are so many different settings for capturing these little jewels (check your manual).


I believe this is a female. The young male and females look alike when young, until the male
starts showing the red dots on his throat (later to become all red).

Tip 3: Use a ballhead with your tripod
You won’t have time to lock in your ballhead for every shot, but you can still use the tripod to provide a little support for your camera. Just set up your tripod and keep the ballhead moderately loose. This way, you’ll have freedom to follow the hummingbird with your camera, while still getting some kind of support (personally I like the freedom of moving around).

Tip 4: Remember your stabilization feature
If your lens has some kind of image stabilization feature, I would still recommend turning it on, even though it’s often said to disable it when using a tripod. Since you’re not really using the tripod entirely (by not locking the ballhead), the image stabilization will help keep the camera more stable.


He looks as if he is not real!


It is so important to feed these precious little hummingbirds. Our home in Texas is one of
their last stops on the way to winter in Mexico. Due to the long flight, the hummers will
double in weight.


This picture of a mature male is called Golden Glow reflections.

Tip 5: How to get close
Hummers will initially retreat from approaching humans, but if you wait, they’ll come right back. The amount of zoom on your lens will determine your distance.

Tip 6: Hover shots
Hummers will sip from nectar or a feeder and then hover to swallow and then feed again. This hovering time will allow for some great shots while they are in flight.

Tip 7: Hand feed them
If you get up early before sunrise and take all but one feeder down, you can get them to feed from your hands. Be sure to wear a red shirt, and they will love you! The hummingbirds are so hungry you can hold the feeder in your hands, placing your fingers where they normally perch. Be patient and stand completely still and they will come! It is a wonderful feeling: their little feet on your hands, and you can feel the wind from the wings on your face.

Bonus Tips:
*Position yourself in their habitat, in a blind or a chair. They should get use to you very quickly
*Sit close to flowering plants, especially red blossoms – they love red
*If you have multiple feeders, tape closed all but the one with good lighting so the hummers will migrate to that spot
*Remove the feeder perches to capture hummingbirds in flight
*Place your flowers/feeders in the sunlight with a pleasing background. Ex. Green leaves, hanging baskets both make a beautiful background
*Turn the flash off and position your plants and feeders in the sun
*”Feed them and they will come” is my motto for attracting huge numbers of hummingbirds
*Place a flower in the tip of your feeder filled with sugar water, be sure to tape or remove the other feeder openings
*Be patient and wait

Interesting facts about hummingbirds:
*The hummingbird is the smallest bird and also the smallest of all animals that have a backbone
*A hummingbird has no sense of smell
*Because a hummingbird can rotate its wings in a circle; they are the only bird that can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways and hover in mid air
*To conserve energy while they sleep or when food is scarce, they can go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate
*During migration, some hummingbirds make a non-stop 500 mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico
*During courtship dives a hummingbird can reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour and can average speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour
*Hummingbirds are the second largest family of birds with 343 species
*Hummingbirds can beat their wings up to 80 times a second during normal flight and up to 200 times per second during a courtship dive
*A hummingbird has a heart rate that can reach up to 1,260 beats per minute
*Percentage wise, the hummingbird has the largest brain of all birds (4.2% of its total body weight)
*Hummingbirds have very weak feet and use them mainly just for perching


Just take a moment and study this little hummer, and you can see the challenge of capturing
the perfect shot! This is a young male in his first year (see the red dot on his throat).


This is my all time favorite and I won a contest in Birds and Blooms two years ago. Name:
“Dancing in the Sun”2009

To see more hummingbird photos and photo books check out my Share site [1]. If you have any questions on hummingbird photography, or have tips of your own, leave a comment on this article!

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[1] check out my Share site: http://barbarajsphotography.shutterfly.com/hummingbirds

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