For ultimate success in stopping hummingbird wings, a multiple flash setup with speedlights set to a 1/64 or 1/128 power is the way to go. In this scenario it is the brief flash that stops the wings because the duration is 1/12,000s or faster. The flashes (usually three to four) need to be within a couple feet of a subdued light area for success.

Pro Capture mode

Six images pulled from 25-shot sequence. Note in some images you can’t even see the bird has wings they are moving so fast.

Above are six frames of a 25-image sequence using the Pro Capture mode on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera. Pro Capture mode allows you to shoot into the past. The camera records the images with a half button push. With my settings it is constantly refreshing 25 images. When you fully depress the shutter button the camera then saves those images that were being recorded and continues recording and saving until you let up or you run the buffer, which I have yet to do.

This allows for waiting until you see the behavior for which you are looking. You won’t be late with the capture because essentially you are saving images from the past! How many times have you been trained on a bird waiting for it to fly using up your buffer? Or, you have been watching and waiting and you miss the signal that the bird is talking off?

With Pro Capture, you can be recording without using your camera buffer and saving once you see the behavior. I highly recommend using back button focus to make the most of this feature so you don’t activate/change the focus when starting the capture.

The workaround

If you don’t have a multiple flash system for making images to freeze wings, fear not. You can still get nice photos of those speedy little critters. If possible, shoot in full sun to get as much light as you can. You can also increase your ISO but then you start to add noise to the image. Noise is not necessarily a bad thing, but many feel it detracts from their photo.

Image straight out of camera. Note that I expose to the right side of the histogram without blowing out the highlights. Olympus E-M1 Mark III camera with M. Zukio Pro 40-150mm f/2.8 lens. MC-20 2.0x teleconverter gave a similar field of view as a 600mm full-frame f/5.6 lens. Settings: 1/250s, f/5.6, ISO 800, 600mm field of view.

You can shoot at a slower shutter speed and almost stop the wings at 1/250s. BUT, the capture has to happen when the wings are just changing direction. Since the wings beat at 80 times a second this happens often. I’ve found a series of exposures in the fastest burst mode of your camera gives you more chances for success at that shutter speed.

Processed file. Lowered exposure, bumped up vibrance, sharpening and texture. Dodging and burning finished to add a little depth and dimension. Adobe Photoshop is my mistress for post-production!

Possibilities

Hummingbirds are creatures of habit. Study their behavior and patterns before starting to shoot. If you have regular hummingbird visitors coming to a feeder just watch for a while. Each individual bird will tend to take the exact same path to the feeder. Hovering in the same place before drinking. Heading back to the same perch after feeding. This makes it much easier to get more keepers … pre-focus on the perch or the hover zone near the feeder for best results.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob