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Camera Settings for Hummingbird Photographs

Without Flash

Both of the following photos were taken without flash:

Hum1

  • Photo A: Camera: Nikon D3s, Shutter Priority Mode, Shutter speed: 1/2000s, Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 2000, Matrix metering, Spot focus, Auto-focus Continuous. Lens: Nikon 200- 400mm f/4, focal length 400mm. On tripod.
    Photo B: Camera: Nikon D3s, Manual Mode, Aperture: f/4, Shutter speed: 1/1250s, ISO 1600, Spot metering, Spot focus, Auto-focus Continuous. Lens: Sigma 180mm Macro f/3.5. On monopod.
  • Shutter speed is the most important setting when photographing hummingbirds in natural light. To freeze the wings in mid-air, set your shutter speed to approximately 1/2000s. If the hummingbird is sitting on a branch, set your shutter speed to approximately 1/1000s.
  • Set Exposure Mode to Shutter Priority, so that you will be able to control the shutter speed and the camera will automatically set the aperture.
  • When shutter speed is set to 1/2000s or 1/1000s, it is necessary to increase the ISO to ensure a good exposure. Set the ISO to approximately 2000.
  • Matrix metering (aka Evaluative Metering) works well for hummingbirds in flight. Spot metering works better when the hummingbird is perched in a tree.

With Flash

The following photo is of a broad-tailed hummingbird, photographed using multiple flash units.

Hum2

  • Camera: Nikon D3s, Manual Mode, Aperture: f/20, Shutter speed: 1/250s, ISO 320, Matrix metering, Spot Focus, Auto Focus-Continuous. Lens: Nikon 200mm Macro f/4. On trip od.
  • Flash: 5 Vivitar 285s set to 1/16th power. 4 of the 5 flash were aimed at illuminating the hummingbird feeder, 1 of the 5 flash was aimed at a background photograph.
  • Set the Exposure Mode to Manual, so that you can control both shutter speed and aperture. Set the shutter speed to synchronize with the flash, either 1/200s or 1/250s.
  • Set aperture to approximately f/20 and ISO to approximately 200.
  • Matrix metering works well.
  • Requires more preparation, but the results are AMAZING!

3 thoughts on “Camera Settings for Hummingbird Photographs”

  1. Thank you 🙂 I know this is an older post, but I found some time to photograph these tiny little works of natures art and am looking forward to trying your tips! My first attempt turned out ok, but I think I can do better.
    Really appreciate the tips!

  2. Good morning Kathleen

    my results using a Nikon D5600 are disappointing for visiting hummingbirds on the rear deck, trying to reach out to someone for help, pictures are nice to look at but I need to know the settings used on the camera as well, you presentation offers both, thank you

    regards

    Roy

  3. Read your tips, 30 minutes later, my first real nice HB shot!