After taking way too many water ski photos over three days… over 10K pics… at the Malibu Open two weeks before. I really needed to have some fun before finishing editing them. It was the first day of vacation, and a very steamy Saturday morning and I set out to find some birds. As hot as it was, I wanted to stay in or near the car, did not want to travel too far, and I also wanted to play with flashes.
Last year about this time, I went to a spot and had some luck with hummingbirds after going to the beach and taking photos of surfers. This year without the hurricane swell from storms to capture more surfing first, the hummers would be fun and also perfect to set up some High Speed Sync (HSS) flash on a few of the plants to see what I could capture.
Below you can see one of the flashes on a stand near the flower\plant I choose to photograph. Either I got my shots the way I wanted, or not but I was setting up and hoping to get lucky. I stayed in the car down low out of view as much as possible, with only the lens hanging out of the windows with the camouflage lens cover. Trying to move it slowly not to startle any visitors. Staying in the the car around most wild birds makes a big difference how close you can get to them. Just saying… get out and walk around around birds that are not used to it, and you need a longer lens to get your shot.
Cool thing about hummingbirds is they feed a lot… and almost like clock work. Most on a 15 minute schedule, but every hummer can be a little different. Use your phone and time the hummers feeding cycle. Unless there is more than one or they happen to be sitting in the bushes near you, you can pretty much do anything for 10 minutes after they leave, but after that get low and hidden before they are expected back. If using flashes, it may take a little while before they don’t fly off when the flash goes off. But after the second or third time they usually are used to it and it doesn’t really bother them at all. I find the plastic defuser on the end of the flashes seems to work great on the speedlights and gives you a little better chance of getting a hummer by spreading out the light around the plants.
Take a few hours to get to know them, and watch for patterns and how they move and feed. After a while you will get a feel for where they will feed eventually. If you are too close to where they feed, they will not come, so backup… it is not rocket science. Having enough reach with your lens so that you can pick your shots and background while still maintaining your distance is key. That way you don’t get stressed or the birds.
Setting you a remote camera with a motion activated trigger with a feeder with one open spot for feeding and multiple flashes, on a tripod with a fixed background can also yield some great results even using a macro lens using manual focus, but I prefer the challenge of shooting them on the fly. Have a bad background… use the flash to black it out if you have to do so. Photos are not as natural, but I still like them.
All images shot with a Canon 5d Mark IV with a Canon 300mm f/2.8 L lens on a 2x converter with a pair of remote speedlights and a trigger.