The lower your aperture number the wider your aperture is and therefore more light can get in and Take your longest lens 300-500mm and tripod and sit in a chair where you have a good angle to photograph. This should be as far away from your feeder as possible, but still close enough to get a good shot. Have your camera set before you sit down and be as still as possible. It is the movement that scares the birds. This is done best on a bright day, in the early morning or late afternoon with the sun at your back. Hummingbird feathers are iridescent and the sunlight striking these feathers is what will give your bird that lovely color. If you will notice in the photo at the top of this article the red at the throat is reflecting a beautiful red color, while the male bird sitting on the feeder (3rd photo) is not reflecting the red. This is why the angle of the sun is important. I never use a flash on animals. It hurts my eyes so I know it hurts theirs. A flash can temporarily blind them and have a disastrous effect. Your best lighting is natural and no flash can imitate that light. The ideal background will be green trees or shrubs at a long distance away to get a soft blur. Set your camera on Aperture Priority and open your aperture enough to get a shutter speed of at least 1/500 of a second. you can get a higher shutter speed. Raise your ISO if necessary.
If your background is far enough away and the day is bright you can use a smaller aperture to get a deeper depth of field which will help you on your focus. The larger your depth of field the more things will be in focus. The larger number the more closed your aperture the more DOF, but it lets in less light so you need a bright day. The smaller your number (2.8-5.6) the more light comes in and the faster your shutter can be. If you have a point and shoot camera or prefer to use automatic settings, use the Sports Mode or whatever the manufacture recommends for moving subjects. Focus on the edge of your feeder mid-way, about were the right bird is perched (see photo 3). Move your lens so that you have an area in your viewfinder that does not include your feeder, and wait for a hummingbird to fly into you focused area. Don’t try to move your camera to catch the bird, let the bird fly into your viewfinder. Don’t try for a super close up, leave enough room in your viewfinder (space around the bird) so you do not have too many half a bird shots. You can always crop. Most birds will hesitate in mid air right before they land to feed; that is when you get your shot. Have your camera set for high speed burst of multiple shots. Read your manual (groan-no one likes to) to find the best settings for your camera.
Try for perched shots first, and then you can try for in flight shots. Of course birds feeding from flowers on your plants make wonderful image, but you will have many more opportunities for shots at a feeder. I get many more misses that I do good photos. Like most wildlife photography you do not have to be a great photographer to get great photos, but you do have to have patience and perseverance. I wish I had enough room here to show you just how many bad shots I get. Another method is to use a blind; this can be a small tent, refrigerator/large appliance box or just a large camouflage piece of cloth. Put up you blind early so the birds get accustom to it and are not afraid. Cut a hole for your lens and shoot away. You can get closer so this method is best for shorter lenses. You can also shoot through a window. Set up your feeder or hanging basket on a Shepard’s hook or hang from the eaves of your house. Clean window thoroughly inside and out and remove the screen. Don’t forget to put up the piece of paper so the bird will not fly into your window. Take some clothes pins or large paper clips and clip the curtains round your lens so the birds cannot see you.¬¬ I find a two step stool handy for a better angle.
If you need a better background for any of these methods you can use a large piece of cloth or a large photograph a few feet behind your feeder. Hang it over a bush or clothes pin it between two shepard’s hooks or other rod you can put into the ground. You can also find an attractive branch to “twist tie” to your shepherds hook or use an old tripod. Place it next to your feeder and the birds will perch on it before going to your feeder. This will make an attractive perched shot. Don’t forget when you go on vacation to get a neighbor to feed your Hummingbirds.
Use your favorite editing software and learn how to clone out distrations like a part of the feeder and change the background if nescessary.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to email me using the “Contact Info” at the top of the page.
See Part 1 of The Complete Guide to Photographing Hummingbirds