Tiny dancers in the air

by on October 01, 2012

 
Flash is what helps you get the catchlights in the eye's of the bird. Flash is also what will help you freeze the wings of the bird in flight.
 

 

I never really thought much about photography until we ripped out the lawns in our typical Silicon Valley yard and installed a native garden for wildlife. As the garden came to life with bugs and birds I couldn’t identify, I grabbed a camera to help me with the IDs.

But one visitor to the garden was easy to identify. Whirling wings, chirps, and bright flashes of greens caught my eye as they darted into the nest of flowers for a drink — hummingbirds.

Just because I could see the hummingbirds though didn’t mean I could capture them with my camera. I became obsessed with getting photos of them in flight. Sometimes I got lucky but most of the time I got blurry birds or no birds at all.

Last weekend I attended a workshop in the Santa Cruz mountains on how to photograph hummingbirds. I learned a lot in just one day using my pretty ordinary equipment; a Nikon D7000, a 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens, and a SB-700 flash.

Watching the birds for a while so you understand their flying behavior is key. You need to be patient, both with their coming and going to the feeders and plants, and with yourself. Expect to take a lot of shots that you throw away. While a fast, large lens is nice, for those of us with less fancy equipment, great photos are still possible. Flash, while not always needed, made a huge improvement in my photographs. (Not the little on camera flash.)

We are lucky enough here in the Bay Area to have many hummingbirds stay with us year-round giving us a lots of photographic opportunities. More info on future hummingbird photography workshops led by Meggi Raeder & Judy Bingman can be found here.

The birds come in fast and leave fast. Study how they hover before they land and how they flare their tails when trying to push another bird away.
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The birds come in fast and leave fast. Study how they hover before they land and how they flare their tails when trying to push another bird away.
Practice catching the birds while they feed or rest on a nearby branch first.
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Practice catching the birds while they feed or rest on a nearby branch first.
You get better shots if you stay in one place and focus toward one feeder or plant.
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You get better shots if you stay in one place and focus toward one feeder or plant.
A tripod is helpful but not always needed.
Caption
A tripod is helpful but not always needed.
Flash is what helps you get the catchlights in the eye's of the bird. Flash is also what will help you freeze the wings of the bird in flight.
Caption
Flash is what helps you get the catchlights in the eye's of the bird. Flash is also what will help you freeze the wings of the bird in flight.
You can make a solid color background out of a piece of poster board. Mount it a few feet behind the feeder or plant. This also helped my slow lens find a focus.
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You can make a solid color background out of a piece of poster board. Mount it a few feet behind the feeder or plant. This also helped my slow lens find a focus.
Be patient and expect to throw away a lot of shots that don't work. It's worth waiting for when you get that perfect shot.
Caption
Be patient and expect to throw away a lot of shots that don't work. It's worth waiting for when you get that perfect shot.

Susan Taylor Brown is a local writer and native plant gardener. She blogs about making a home for wildlife in the suburbs, and about her writing life. And check out her Flickr page for more amazing photos of hummingbirds. 

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4 comments:

Jeanette Larson on October 1st, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Not only did you learn how to photograph these amazing creatures, you have inspired so many others of us to try. With my less than stellar camera, I also have learned to use the burst setting and a tripod. Thanks for continuing to inspire and push me to try for better shots!

Kathy Palmer on October 1st, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Have enjoyed Ms. Brown’s photograph of all things nature and am especially attracted to her hummingbirds. Thank you for letting her share her passion!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter on October 1st, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Thanks for featuring these gorgeous photos! Susan Taylor Brown, you are one talented and inspiring individual!

Mark Rushton on October 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Hey Susan.
These are fantastic photos and I believe you will be encouraging me to improve my photographic skills of the beautiful birds that visit my garden here in the north-west of Sydney, immediately adjacent to a beautiful bushland gully. Well done on a delightful article.
Warm regards,
Mark R

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