Photographing hummingbirds like a pro

   As you probably know, getting a crystal clear, high quality photo takes alot of time and work, except for one of those occassional lucky shots. But sometimes you wonder, how do the pros manage all of their seemingly flawless photographs where the subject (in this instance, a bird) is perfectly posed and in a perfect location? Well it takes a little manipulating. After seeing some of the methods that pros use, I integrated one of my own methods to help create the final product, below:

    But how, may you ask, did I manage such a photograph? A little ingenuity and some manipulation of the area is all. A step by step photographic journey through the process is shown below, to help you understand how I managed such a wonderful shot of this beautiful female ruby-throated hummingbird.

  1. First, I chose a location to shoot the photo. In this instance, I chose some blooming hosta plants infront of my house. I would shoot the photos from the porch, at about 12 feet away.
  2. I prepped my camera for the shoot. I chose to use a tripod so that the photo would be a nice, clear shot (a tripod is recommended when photographing hummingbirds).
  3. Now that you have a location for the shoot and your camera is ready, you need to prep the area for the shoot. The goal is to create a situation where the bird (in this case, a hummingbird) has to go to an area where you are able to shoot a good image- you wan't to have the subject (the hummingbird) in a clear area where no other objects will interfere (such as a leaf blown infront of the bird in a breeze, etc), and you will want the photo to have a nice, blurred background (preferably a natural background). Below is a series of photos showing how I prepped the area for the shoot.

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   Above is what the area looked like before I altered it for the shoot. The problem with the above situation is that with all of the flower clusters, The hummingbird to go to any given opened bloom, and I would have no way of knowing which flower to be prepared to focus on. Besides that, some of the flowers faced away from the location from which I would be shooting the photograph. These flowers needed to go; but instead of removing them completely, I decided to 'remove' them in a way in which after the shoot, I could still enjoy them until their bloom time was over. So what needed to be done in the above situation was basically remove any flower clusters that weren't facing my shooting location, or obstructing the clusters that I wished to leave for the shoot. In the photo above, I had already removed all of the dead flowers from the stems, thus eliminating any unnecessary object that could later interfere with the resulting image. Also, I wanted to limit the number of options that the hummingbird had so that I would have a better chance of getting a quality photo. After I prepped the area, there were only four clusters left standing. So what I did to mitigate the problem was to cut a small length on string and tie down the clusters below the thick foliage of the host plants. The nice thing about this particular situation is that hosta flowers have uncommonly long and flexible stems, so you can bend them along way without damaging or breaking them.

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   After you have decided which flower clusters need to be removed, gather the clusters into a group (if they are on seperate plants or on a rather large plant, you may have to tie them down individually) and prepare to tie them down. Do this by making a loop of string around the stems, as shown below.

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   After you have gathered the flower clusters, gently bend them down to the ground several feet from where the join the plant (if you bend them down to close to where they join the plant they may break) and then use the same knot that you use every day to tie your shoes to secure the flower stalks down below the hosta leaves, as shown above. When you release the stems, they should stay down below the leaves of the hosta plant, and thus become unaccessable to the hummingbirds above (as shown below).

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   Now only the flower clusters that are facing your shooting location are available to the hummingbird, so you will have the hummingbird right where you want it. And plus, you only have a few places where you may need to focus the camera, versus the endless possibilities that existed before you removed the other flower clusters. Now all you have to do is sit and wait on the hummingbird to arrive (and this part is the longest, usually). I was waiting for about 30 minutes before I managed to get my shot, and the hummingbirds were there four times before I got my photo. Patience (and skill) is the key. And that, my friends, is how to photograph hummingbirds like a pro.


TIP: You may want to take down your hummingbird feeders right before the shoot, so that the hummingbirds have to turn to natural sources for their food, increasing the chances that you will get a good hummingbird shot, and also increasing the visits that they will make to the flowers.


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