Here in Colorado, the hummingbird migration typically begins in early June and lasts until early September, although a rapid change in the weather can often affect the timing of their departure.
Over the past few months, I made several attempts to photograph hummingbirds during their early morning visits to the flowers in our home garden. Photographing birds in flight can often be challenging, and I was finding that photographing hummingbirds in flight was more challenging than other species of birds that I had previously photographed.
Trial and error
My initial photos of these very fast-moving birds were unimpressive. They were often blurry due to the challenge of maintaining a fast shutter speed in low early morning and late evening light when the hummingbirds tend to be more active. Occasionally I would get “lucky” when a hummingbird would move into a brighter area within the scene, which increased the shutter speed to an acceptable level while using aperture priority on my camera.
I then experimented with the shutter priority camera setting using a shutter speed of 1/2000s, an open aperture of f/2.8 and auto ISO. However, the ISO would often exceed 2000, resulting in noisy images.
Let there be light!
In late July, I had a good friend and very experienced professional photographer visit. He suggested the use of an off-camera flash to provide enough light to the scene and allow for a faster shutter speed, without having to sacrifice noise by pushing up the ISO.
Following my friend’s advice, I set up my Godox AD200 light on a light stand about five feet away from the flowers that I knew the hummingbirds were attracted to. I enabled high-speed sync on the flash, as well as the Godox transmitter that was attached to my camera’s hot shoe. Since high-speed sync reduces the light output, particularly at very high shutter speeds, I set the flash power to full strength. I used manual settings on my camera in the general ranges of ISO 200–400; aperture f/2.8–4.0 and shutter speed of 1/2000–1/4000s.
My hummingbird photos improved significantly during the second half of the summer thanks to the use of off camera high-speed sync flash. I really enjoyed my early mornings sitting on our front porch with the flash setup while reading the newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee and waiting for the “humming” sound that would immediately kick up my adrenaline level.
Just as I felt as I was beginning to get the hang of this, the hummingbirds made their departure to warmer climates well south of Colorado. I sure hope there are other photographers down there catching some great images of these birds. I am anxiously waiting for June 2022, as I know that I still can further refine my techniques to get better images.
Editor’s note: We welcome this article from Michael Ryno, a landscape, wildlife and nature photographer in Highlands Ranch, CO. Learn more and see his work at michaelrynophotography.com.