Tiny dancers in the air

October 1, 2012

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.


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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