When I first started photographing birds in flight some time ago, (longer than I care to remember) I was always more interested in raptors and waterfowl than anything else.
Every once in a while I would be perusing the photography forums and I would come across images of hummingbirds in seemingly impossible poses frozen in time with beautiful light and backgrounds. I fell in love with these images and thought wow, these are really something special. After some research I discovered that the best of these images were actually done with multiple flash set ups, feeders, flowers and even printed out of focus backgrounds made to mimic perfect natural conditions. At first this made me think to myself am I really interested in something that is set up like that? Would I enjoy that type of bird photography? Oddly enough, my answer was no. I didn’t think that was for me and I went on with the type of bird photography that I was best at.
About 2 months after this I had the opportunity to travel to Trinidad & Tobago with my wife and another couple to do some bird photography and sightseeing. Trinidad & Tobago turned out to be a wonderful destination for its natural beauty, people and ample bird photography opportunities. One of our destinations was a lovely property where they have some wonderful species of hummingbirds that frequent the grounds. My friend that I was travelling with has been long considered one of the best in the business at multiple flash hummingbird photography. When we got to our destination he immediately started to set up for hummingbird shooting while I prepared myself to go off on some trails to look for other jungle bird species to photograph. I thought I would enjoy a morning coffee while I watched my friend photograph some hummers. Well, as it turns out, I never made it out into the jungle trails that morning because I took a few turns at shooting the hummingbirds and was instantly hooked on it! It was absolutely thrilling to wait for these little beauties to fly in and try to capture them hovering and feeding. I thought that it would be dead simple but I was dead wrong. As with any photography, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. That being said, once you see the results that can be obtained I would be surprised to meet any bird photographer who would not love a shot at making these images.
I think the thing that was the most exciting to me about this type of photography was that you were able to look at the unbelievable colors and details of these birds that normally, the naked eye can’t get a good look at. The beauty of these little birds was just astonishing and opened up a whole new world of bird photography for me. Since this first encounter I have gone to different destinations all over to photograph new species of hummingbirds and I just can’t seem to get enough! The endless variety and beauty of these birds is mind boggling. I have yet to meet a hummingbird that I didn’t like.
I should tell you that this type of bird photography will not be for everyone because of the fact that you are required to carry quite a lot of extra gear on your travels to do this. Just how much gear am I talking about? Let me tell you.
- At least 6 extendable flash stands
- A 42” round reflector plus a back up
- At least 5 flash units other than the one you use as your regular flash
- At least 2 hummingbird feeders that can be attached to the flash stands (really)
- Not less than 24 AA rechargeable batteries and 2 high speed charging units
- An extendable 42 in arm that will allow attachment of the 42” reflector to place the imitation background on.
- At least 4 printed on canvas or high quality luster 24 x 36” prints to use for that perfect background.
- An assortment of gadgets and tools including syringes for putting sugar water in flowers, duct tape and a myriad of other essential items.
Then you have to consider, how do I set them up, what angles, what heights, what power settings for the flashes? How far away should the background be? What settings do I use on the camera?
Ok, I have ruined it now haven’t I? You were getting all geared up to start hummingbird photography and I just burst the bubble because you have just said to yourself that there is no way you can carry all of that plus your regular photo gear. Can’t say I blame you.
Well, I have some good news for you that should help you get excited about this again.
It just so happens that the company I operate, Nature’s Photo Adventures, specializes in taking people to the places where the hummingbirds are to teach you how to take these beautiful images. But wait that’s not all! We also supply all of the equipment for you to use while learning this wonderful medium. All you have to bring is your digital slr, your lens and a flash unit and we do all the rest. So now what excuse would you have to not want to take part in this fun and exciting form of bird photography?
I also want to tell you that there is a lot to be said for “natural” hummingbird photography. I thoroughly enjoy making images of hummers perched on branches, leaves and bushes the same way I also enjoy making static images of raptors and waterfowl. But if you want to freeze the action and end up with some stunningly beautiful hummingbird images, multi flash is definitely the way to go.
I hope that this short article gives you a glimpse of the exciting world of hummingbird photography and I hope to see you on one of our workshops one day soon.
Written by: David Hemmings. David owns and operates Natures Photo Adventures and has been published by National Geographic and many other magazines and books.