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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Art Talk | September 2009 

Photo Tip of the Week: Photographing Hummingbirds
email this pageprint this pageemail usLarry and Linda Bennett - PVNN
September 24, 2009

Photo Tips of the Week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer who lives in Puerto Vallarta part time. For more photo tips click HERE. To view more of his work, visit
Hola and greetings to Puerto Vallarta and friends where ever you are!

I have been having lots of fun this summer, more fun than any one person should. Iím averaging a couple of thousand images a week and have been taking Photoshop classes three hours a week. I have always enjoyed Photoshop and its ability to turn a good photographer into a great one - but the things a person can do with this tool should be illegal. Maybe later on in the fall (or winter) if you are interested in Photoshop, I can provide some articles on some tricks and tips for using Photoshop.

One day this summer, as I lazily sat on my patio in Colorado looking out at the beautiful Rocky Mountains, suddenly I was being entertained by a small bunch of hummingbirds. It took them a week or so to find the hummingbird feeder that I strategically placed only a few feet away from my throne (as I call it, others refer to it as an old broken down Adirondack rocker that has less character than a timeshare sales man). Anyway, itís my story and itís my thrown and my kingdom, and my court jester Annie (my black lab) has never disagreed.

As I sit every morning watching these amazing little dive bombers play, feed and chase each other around Ė the wheels in my little photographers mind start to turn while I am figuring out how I can take pictures of these little creatures that rarely stop and are faster then ice cream melting in Puerto Vallarta on a hot summer day.

Really, think about it, by the time you have your camera focused and youíre going to press the shutter release, they are gone. After much thought and turning of the camera dials, one thing led to another and soon I was taking some beautiful hummingbird photographs! With some practice, you too can shoot some beautiful photographs of those amazing little creatures.

My south facing patio sets the stage with a background of both aspen trees and an 8 foot tall brown wooden fence which makes for a good photo background. I repositioned my thrown so the background in my pictures would include a dark spot in the fence with a few aspen branches hanging down.

Looking/sounding good so far? Okay, itís time to play. With a fresh cup of coffee, two slices of toast, and the court jester Annie all by my side we are now ready for those little dive bombers to come and drink that fresh nectar that I had made yesterday. I find that those little dive bombers seem to enjoy the stuff you make, more, versus the store bought nectar.

I have already grabbed one of my faster cameras and as you know from the past if youíve read my articles, Iím a Canon guy. I put a 100-400mm F5.6 lens on my Canon 50D. I like the 50D because itís a fast camera at 7.7 frames a second with a 40 shot burst, it processes fast, very fast and with its 16.2 actual pixels it turns out some really nice images. Almost forgot, a tripod is a must! I have added a pistol grip head to my tripod (which is wonderful by the way...) and adjusted it to eye level. After shooting a few test shots, I am ready for action.

The first hummingbird came and went before I could get my coffee back to the table and was back on the aspen branch just looking at me! I thought I was ready for action. Whew, was that fast or what? Iíd better be ready for the next one - got it this time. I was able to shoot 8 or 9 images before the hummingbird returned to the aspen branch to watch what I was doing.

I quickly reviewed my shots and was not real happy with what had just happened. The shutter speed was too slow and the lighting was horrible. I need some time to think this out and figure out my next move.

The next morning I was on top of it, bright and early with the same setting, including a hot cup of Mexican grown coffee and my toast. Today, added to my stage were two 42Ē gold reflectors; one was set directly opposite and a little higher than the bird feeder and the other reflector was down low - almost on the ground but at a 20% angle.

Using these two reflectors helped to light up the bird feeder like a golden Buddha statue. Now I was ready for those little guys. It was still a little dark since the sun had just risen, so I had my ISO set at 1250.

I have found throughout the summer of playing with the hummingbirds that the ISO is your major tool that will make these images really good or really bad. My shutter speed was set at 1600 and the camera was set to Tv or shutter priority.

This particular morning of shooting the hummingbirds I deemed to be successful. After about an hour of shooting I was ready to get on with my day but I really wanted to see what kind of images I had captured.

I down loaded my images and was somewhat happy to see my images, but I also know there is always room for improvement. In this particular situation what was it? Where could I improve? The wings - in my images the wings were frozen and I wanted some blur, some movement. I wanted to see what the wings were doing.

The lighting created by the reflectors was so cool. A few of the hummingbirds were beige in color so the gold reflectors made the hummingbirds look really cool; some of the other hummingbirds had small areas of their feathers that had a metallic look to their feathers with a gold shimmer.

I also lowered my shutter speed to 800 and my ISO to 1000 and ended up having to re-adjust my ISO almost every few minutes with the rising sun or the clouds would cover-up the sun. It was a constant adjustment to capture the look I wanted.

The rest of the week I was happy with my results, but I always seem to find room for improvement. What more could I do? What other features are on this camera and what more can I do to capture not only good but great hummingbird images? Focus? Shutter speed? Yep, thatís it.

So hereís what I did and it did in deed produce not only good hummingbird images but great ones! I played with my shutter. I would change it back and forth from a shutter speed of 640 to 1250 depending on the color of the bird. Yep, I was that anal about it, but by doing this I was able to achieve tack clear images.

I spot metered under AF mode, then I used my auto focus, but I used the center spot only in place of all nine sensors in evaluative metering, and it was that much sharper. I have always known there was some difference, because this is the mode I use when shooting the whales and dolphins out in the Bay of Banderas.

It was simple once it all came together, and being able to manipulate the ISO while watching my histogram has made a major difference in how I shoot not only hummingbirds, but birds in general.

For the next three weeks I will be on the road shooting the beautiful fall colors in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. My next few articles will include tips on how to shoot landscapes and fall colors.

Remember, these articles are read not only in the Puerto Vallarta area but worldwide, so letís step out of our box and have some fun with the fall colors. Keep sending those emails. I look forward to hearing from you! Until then F8 and be there!

Watch for my next article on photographing landscapes, coming soon.

Photo Tips of the week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer living in Puerto Vallarta. These tips are to be just tips, refer to your cameras owner's manual for specifics on your camera. Readers are welcome to enjoy Larry's website at

Click HERE for more Photo Tips from Larry Bennett.

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