Hummingbird Images Captured at Various Shutter Speeds

Yesterday I went to the Urquhart Butterfly Garden with the hope of capturing some images of hummingbirds in flight. Mother Nature cooperated and I was treated to two brief hummingbird visits, each lasting for a minute or two as the hummingbird flitted from blossom to blossom. This article shares some hummingbird images captured at various shutter speeds.

Lately I’ve been doing bird photography using both a Nikon 1 V2 and a Nikon 1 V3, each equipped with a 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. Since the V2 and V3 shoot at different continuous auto-focus (AF-C) frame rates using this combination of cameras provides a bit more flexibility rather than only shooting with one model of body. Since the buffers on both the V2 and V3 are limited to 40 images, having an extra body with me allows for more images to be captured as I can simply change bodies when a buffer fills.

All of the images that follow were captured hand-held in available light at the same location while the hummingbirds were flying and feeding in some flowers. Let’s have a look at a couple of images captured at 1/1600 of a second.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1000

As we can see in the above image, when a hummingbird’s wings are captured in the extended ‘back’ position a shutter speed of 1/1600 is sufficiently fast enough to capture the bird’s body with good detail. There is some wing blur visible at this shutter speed.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1000

When the hummingbird’s wings are beginning to descend in a down stroke or rise during an upbeat, the blur increases. Mid-stroke wing positions have the most visible blur. Whether a photographer wants a certain amount of wing blur in their images or not is a personal decision.

Now let’s examine a couple of images captured at a slightly faster shutter speed of 1/2000.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1100

The back view orientation used in the above image gives us a good vantage point to assess the amount of the wing blur created when using a shutter speed of 1/2000.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1100

As we can see in the above image, even when a hummingbird’s wings are in the ‘back’ position, motion blur is clearly visible. With the next several images we’ll shift to a shutter speed of 1/3200.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-3200
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2500
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2800

Shooting with a shutter speed of 1/3200 does help to freeze the motion of a hummingbird’s wings, especially in the ‘back’ and ‘forward’ positions as we can see in the first and second images. The third image shows that wing blur will still be noticeable during mid-beat when a shutter speed of 1/3200 is used. You’ll also notice that the ISO has increased quite a bit in these three images. Some of this is due to the fact that the V2 and V3 perform differently when it comes to measured vs. manufacturer stated ISO, with the V2 being about 2/5 of a stop more accurate than the V3.

On a personal basis, I much prefer to ‘freeze’ hummingbird wing motion as much as possible given shooting conditions. As a result I tend to use 1/3200 as a minimum shutter speed when photographing hummingbirds in flight, and I’ll use even faster shutter speeds when possible. Let’s have a look at some images captured using a shutter speed of 1/8000.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/8000, ISO-3600

This rear position capture allows us to see how much wing blur has been reduced when compared to shooting at 1/1600.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/8000, ISO-3600

In the image above we can see quite good wing definition as the hummingbird is beginning its down stroke wing beat.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/8000, ISO-4000

The image above was my favourite one captured during the two brief visits the hummingbird made to Urquhart Butterfly Garden. Using a shutter speed of 1/8000 has ‘frozen’ the wings quite well when in the ‘back’ position.

Like all things photographic, using fast shutter speeds when photographing hummingbirds in flight (and other small birds) does come with a trade-off in terms of shooting at higher ISO’s. As is the case with all digital cameras, increasing ISO reduces both dynamic range and colour depth which does affect overall image quality. As photographers, each of us needs to assess what is most important to us when choosing our camera settings.

Many photographers use flash when photographing hummingbirds, some utilizing quite elaborate set-ups. Again, this is a personal choice. I prefer to shoot hand-held in available light.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images in the article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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6 thoughts on “Hummingbird Images Captured at Various Shutter Speeds”

  1. Hi Tom

    First time commenting here. I have enjoyed your posts for a while now and appreciate the sublime images you post without needing the best camera (sensor) or hours at the editing pc. This to me is a huge motivating factor as a guy next door with a camera, and one of the reasons I look forward to your posts.
    Looking at the ISO for the pics, I wonder to what extent DXO Prime NR has an influence over you enjoying the Nikon 1 system, and if Prime wasn’t available, if you would have looked to upgrade to a better low light system by now.

    Don’t get me wrong I have a J5 and have a love for it myself, but playing around with Lightroom and DXO, Dxo really adds a something extra with MINIMAL effect by using the Prime and Lens Sharpening features.

    Having said that, I think your photos and articles are amazing and it’s one of the few pages I enjoy visiting, if anything I wish maybe you had one or two articles a month which provides more of a read with the accompanying pictures.


    1. Hi Larry,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here – it is always great to hear from a reader! I really appreciate your comment, i.e. “as a guy next door with a camera” as this is how I view myself and my work. I think too many photography sites focus in on highly technical aspects of photography and are gear-centric, which can intimidate people and demotivate them from expressing their creativity through their images. To me photography should be accessible and fun.

      My switch to using the Nikon 1 system exclusively was driven more by my needs for my industrial client video business more than anything else, as using the Nikon 1 system has helped make me far more efficient than using a Nikon D800 and full frame lenses. I don’t use DxO for my video productions.

      In terms of DxO PhotoLab (previously OpticsPro) I agree totally that the software really helps get the most of out Nikon 1 RAW files. I love the automatic lens corrections that PhotoLab does and the PRIME noise reduction is easy to use and effective. I feel that PRIME gives my Nikon 1 gear 2 extra stops of light in terms of usability. I also like the Spot Weighted DxO Smart Lighting tool and a few of the other functions in DxO software. I always encourage people to look at their camera, lenses and software and as integrated system. I like using DxO PhotoLab to the point that I would not consider buying a camera if it was not supported by that software – but that’s just me. Other folks feel passionately about other software that they use.

      If I didn’t have DxO would I have switched to a different camera system? Nope. There is nothing else on the market that meets my business and personal needs better than Nikon 1. I’m disappointed that the system was discontinued, but I have quite a bit of gear that I have built up over the years as I am planning to shoot with Nikon 1 exclusively for many years to come.

      I do try to publish as many articles as I can here on my blog, as well as periodic postings on Photography Life where I am still on the writing team, as well as some guest posts on Mirrorlessons and NikonRumors. Depending on the subject matter I try to write what I feel is an appropriate amount of supporting copy for my images. I’m not sure what additional information you would find of value in my articles…some additional insights would be helpful. My eBooks are ‘more of a read’ than the articles. Hope this has answered your questions.


      1. Tom, also enjoy the fact you reply to all your readers.

        I never thought about it this way, “look at their camera, lenses and software as an integrated system”, so yeah, that makes total sense. I have a D3300 as well which clearly has better quality as the iso increases, but I hardly use it as I enjoy the j5 more, so I fully understand what you mean, but I thought id ask you anyway about DXO.

        I thought I needed Lightroom after reading a few websites out there and got a CC subscription. People would show how they edited their photos, mask this, mask that, transfer to photoshop, correct this……. . Then I found your website and realised, as a newbie, I don’t need more than 2 min on a photo. in fact, I read a few articles of yours before I realised you don’t mess around with editing too much. It was a bit of an eye opener as I watched youtube videos on how to edit pics and I sort of believed that good editing takes a while. (I also prefer photos that are close to reality with no amount of “creativity” added to them). Now I can’t wait for my subscription to end as its not a necessary expense at this point. I do think Lightroom is a great piece of software though, but for now I like your approach. Spend your time getting it right in camera, enjoy the location, admire your subjects, then spend only a minute or so to touch up in software and you’re done.
        In fact if Capture NXD had good highlight recovery and wasn’t so awfully slow………. as I like the colour it produces.

        With regards to “more of a read”, I meant it as a compliment as I like reading your articles. I also don’t know what more you should add, I’m just being greedy, but ill let you know if I come up with something.
        Your site used to be an info place for me for the N1 system. (I can only import the J5 with kit lens where I live, as much as I would really love additional lenses and a V2. So ill probably move over to M4/3 once I can shoot better as that system is sold here).
        Now I use your site for inspiration and for learning and also just when I’m bored ill look over some previous posts. So I guess your site is not just about looking at pics to me, its motivating and encouraging and a learning tool.

        I didn’t realise the ebook had that many pages, ill definitely have a look at them.Thanks for the effort!

        1. Hi Larry,

          Thank you for your very kind words regarding my site and my work – they are most appreciated!

          At some point when it makes sense for you to change gear, the most important thing in my view is to find equipment with which ‘you can make a connection’. How a camera feels in your hands when you use it, and how it enables your creativity by ‘not getting in the way’ are important considerations. I’ve shot with cropped sensor and full frame Nikon DSLR cameras in the past (as well as a very brief flirtation with M4/3) and nothing has come even remotely close to allowing my creative urges to flow as does the Nikon 1 system for me. Everyone is different of course, and what works for one person may be a disaster for the next.

          Try a few different cameras and formats out…go out and shoot with friends that will show you their gear and let you try it out a bit. Make sure you also capture some RAW files with various gear and work with the files in post. You may find, like I did, that some files work better for you than others. I had a Panasonic GH4 for a brief period along with a couple of Panasonic ‘pro’ f/2.8 zoom lenses. I had never tried that gear before and bought it based on the rave reviews that it had garnered on the net on various photography sites. I won’t go into any details as I don’t want to disparage gear that may work wonderfully well for other people, but suffice to say that I hated using it and returned it for a small restocking charge after about 10 days of use.


  2. Tom,

    What more can I say but this series is humming (my apologies, I can’t resist the pun) but seriously, just gorgeous captures. Thanks for sharing the images as well as the settings. Keeping the latter in mind for future reference.


    1. Thanks Oggie – I’m glad you enjoyed the photos! If I would have had more time I would have captured a few more images at 1/5000 (my typical choices for shutter speed with hummingbirds is either 1/3200 or 1/5000 unless I have really strong light), but I was a little pressed for time that day.

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