Bathrobe Photography: A Hummingbird Safari
Like any experienced big game hunter, I arranged my blind with care so that its overview of the objective was unimpaired. I readied my equipment, barrel mounted on a monopod to steady my aim and reduce arm fatigue. I checked the view through the optics, scanning the field of fire, swinging from one possible aiming point to the next.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, my prey appeared: a handsome young female, chirping to test the wind, flitting peripatetically from bloom to bloom faster than an electronic focusing device could – um – focus.
That’s right: my prey this morning are hummingbirds, my blind a lawn chair, and the barrel a 70-200 zoom lens attached to the Canon 5DII. I was on hummingbird safari in the fields of my wife’s backyard flower garden.
The weather conditions were perfect for this expedition: full overcast with plenty of filtered light, no deep shadows, no high contrast to overwhelm the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor. I actually had a larger lens in my kit: a massive 50-500 zoom that would have provided me with roughly twice the magnification of the 200, even with its 1.4 extender in place. But from past photo safaris I knew that the 500 was sluggish at finding a focus point — a trait that would doom this project to failure at the get-go.
Fortuitously, the little bird (just a single individual appears in this set of photos) proved singularly cooperative, choosing to feed time and again from the Mexican sage (Salvia mexicana) only 6-8 meters in front of me. So I snapped away, and dumped the blurry shots (about 50% of the captures) later in the editing process.
I used aperture priority set at 6.3 and 640 ISO; shutter speeds hovered (get it?) around the 1/500th region. After peeking at some pixels during breaks in the shooting, I set the camera to underexpose 2/3 of a stop, which ended up delivering exposures close to the desired result — the bird being a bit lighter in tone than the background.
Still on my “must capture” bucket list: a snap of one of the numerous hummingbird altercations that happen just too damn fast to focus on. The only hope of getting a shot like that is to stumble onto it accidentally. Something to strive for – a kind of holy grail of hummer photography.
Note: these are ruby throated hummingbirds, the most common variety native to N TX this time of the year. The males are more colorful (you’ll note no ruby throats in evidence here) – hopefully I can repeat this session with one of them involved.