startled hummingbird

Hummingbird Photography

(All photos on this page copyright (C) Akkana Peck. Click on outlined images to see a larger version.)

Flash photography (film)

Reading up on hummingbird photography, the general consensus was that it requires a flash. I bought an aftermarket flash unit, a Sunpak 244D which does TTL metering with my Nikon FG. (I use the FG because it has a winder, which is important: the birds don't seem to mind having a camera near the feeder once they get used to the sound of the shutter, and they don't mind the flash at all, but they prefer it if I stay farther away, so I use the winder and a long bulb release to trip the shutter.)

I was astounded at the instant gratification I got using the TTL flash. I couldn't take as many pictures, because it took the flash up to 8 seconds to recycle, so I was lucky if I get two shots of the same bird before it drinks its fill and flies away (then I have to wait ten or fifteen minutes for the next visitor to the feeder). But I got a high success rate on the shots I did get.
male hummingbird startled hummingbird female hummingbird with fanned tail

Digital shots: no flash

DSLR

[tyrannical male Anna's] Armed with my 2-day-old Rebel Xsi, I sat on the porch across from the feeder waiting for customers. All I got was the Anna's male who currently rules this feeder with an iron ... um, wing: after he feeds, he zips over to the orange tree ten feet away and waits in hiding so he can harrass the females who try to visit the feeder. The little tyrant ... I did get a few decent shots of him, though, this one being the best.

A month or two later I was better equipped, with a custom remote shutter cable that lets me sit in the office (where the birds aren't disturbed by my presence) and click away. Most shots still don't come out, but if you shoot enough of them you can get a few gems.

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Pocket cameras: Shooting through the screen

I have the feeder right outside my window, so I get to see the hummers up close. But there's a screen between me and them, which hurts image quality. Still, now and then I get something I like. I especially like the shot of this male flying off (I set the camera in burst mode and kept firing until he was gone). Sometimes people ask me whether hummingbirds have feet. You can see their feet in most of these shots, but this one is especially good for doubters.
[Male at the feeder, through the screen] [Male at the feeder, through the screen] [Male leaving the feeder, through the screen] [ Female at the feeder ]

Outdoors

I see them in the trees, too, and at local parks. Here are a few shots I've picked up here and there:
[ Male in a tree, singing ] [ Male in a tree, singing ] [Hummingbird at Stevens Creek] [ Female hummer in a tree ]

Nest

A local nursery (aptly named, in this case!) had a sign on one of their trees: Not for sale: hummingbirds nesting! Of course, I had to snap a few pictures (from a decent distance so as not to disturb the babies).
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Other Hummingbird Sites

An amazing site with incomparable photos of birds in flight is R. W. Scott's "Birds in Flight". Also excellent for hummingbird photos is Zack Sessions. And check out A Hummer Odyssy for a wonderful series of nestling photos. Hummingbird Pictures Guide has photos of quite a few hummer species and their nests.
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