Backyard Hummingbird

Having the opportunity to photograph a backyard hummingbird doesn’t happen all that frequently in Southern Ontario. These little pocket rockets only migrate to our region for a few months of the year. In an attempt to attract hummingbirds my wife refreshes the sugar solution in a couple of hummingbird feeders we have on our back deck every few days. She has also planted some flowers that tend to attract hummingbirds.

Being potentially treated with a backyard hummingbird is something that I look forward to every year. This article discusses using Pro Capture H to photograph hummingbirds in flight. As is my standard practice, all of the images in this article were captured handheld.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2904 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.7 metres

As you can see with the photograph above, using Pro Capture H can sometimes result in some rolling shutter effects. The fast frame rates available with Pro Capture are made possible by the use of an electronic shutter.

Since an image is not exposed all at once with most electronic shutters some ‘warping’ of a bird’s wings can occur in a photograph. It is a potential trade-off that one needs to deal with when using Pro Capture H with a fast shutter speed, when photographing a bird or insect with rapid wing movements. I’ve noticed that rolling shutter effect is most pronounced when attempting to photograph bees in flight. There may be an article on this topic in the future.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2660 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.7 metres

It takes some trial and error to arrive at the best shutter speed to use with hummingbirds. I’ve been using 1/2500 of a second with some success. This setting creates more wing blur than I personally like, but it does seem to reduce the potential impacts of rolling shutter. Hopefully I’ll have more opportunities this season to experiment further with my choice of shutter speed.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2583 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

Although we have hummingbird feeders in our backyard, I much prefer photographing a backyard hummingbird when it is feeding from blossoms. This necessitates quick eye/hand coordination as hummingbirds don’t tend to stay long at a particular blossom.  Hummingbirds usually hover for a split second before they move in to feed from a blossom. This is the best window of opportunity to use Pro Capture H. I use a single AF point in centre frame so I can get it placed on a subject hummingbird as quickly as possible. Pre-focusing my lens at the approximate distance I am expecting a backyard hummingbird to feed, can be very helpful.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2630 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

It is important to determine a good shooting angle in advance and muster up some patience to wait for a backyard hummingbird to make return visits to the food source. Often this occurs every 10-15 minutes for a number of successive feeding sessions before the hummingbird moves on to another location.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2880 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.7 metres

I use my standard small bird Pro Capture H settings with my backyard hummingbird photographs. Both Pre Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter are set to 15, with a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second. This allows me to capture short Pro Capture H image runs in quick succession with my E-M1X. Using 60 frames-per-second increases my potential to capture some useable images during these fleeting photographic opportunities. If your Olympus camera can use UHS-II memory cards, it is important to use fast memory cards that take advantage of this technology as it really helps to keep your buffer operating efficiently.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2581 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

Whenever possible choose a shooting position that puts your camera at eye level with the feeding height of the hummingbird. This helps create a more natural and interesting angle. I usually sit quietly on a short stool or deck lounge chair. It can take some time during the season, but hummingbirds will get at least somewhat acclimatized to humans.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3581 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

My initial backyard hummingbird images this season were with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with an M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter. After I reviewed my EXIF data I subsequently stopped using the MC-14 as I can get close enough to the hummingbirds to forgo its use. This gives me the benefits of gaining an extra stop of light and using a more open aperture as you can see in the photograph above.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,045th article published on this website since its original inception.

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4 thoughts on “Backyard Hummingbird”

  1. Tom,
    I just got my OLY 100-400 and am awaiting the opportunity to shoot hummers. I use an OLY EM1-2, would you recommend settings any different than what you are using. John

    1. Hi John,

      I use Pro Capture H @ 60 fps since I often want to capture a hummingbird in free flight after leaving a feeder or flower. Getting the images in temporary memory works well for me since hummers are so quick.

      Photographing them hovering and feeding at a flower allows you a number of options outside of Pro Capture H. You could use Cluster Area, or an auto-focus spread of some sort, or a single AF point, if you’re more comfortable with those approaches. It really depends on your objective with your image run. Having a number of options is one of the things that I love about my E-M1X.

      If I have the opportunity, I will also be testing out Bird Detection AI with my E-M1X… I appreciate that you would not have that option with your E-M1 Mark II.

      Tom

      1. Thanks Tom, I’ll try some of your suggestions when the little rockets will allow. John

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