Hummingbirds In Natural Light

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I began this series of posts of wildlife images from Costa Rica with some photographs of hummingbirds that I took using three different flash techniques.  Today, I’m featuring images that I made near the end of the trip,  of hummingbirds taken in natural light.

I made these photos at a site located at several thousand feet of elevation in the cloud forest of Costa Rica’s southern mountains.  It was a generally overcast day — a bit chilly — with occasional moments of sunlight.  The lighting was just about perfect for this type of photography.  We had extremely cooperative subjects.  The hummingbirds were hungry, there were a lot of them, and they were indifferent to humans standing in close proximity to them as they fed.  The chances for success were excellent with all of these elements being present.

I had quite a bit of success.  I captured dozens of images during a two-hour session.  The ones that I’m featuring today are a representative sample, but they are only a sample.  I could turn this blog into a hummingbird blog for a week or so (but I won’t).

Today’s images feature three species: the tiny Volcano Hummingbird; the Lesser Violetear; and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird.  All of these are Central American species, not found in the United States.

The Vocano Hummingbird is the second smallest of all hummingbird species.  This bird is about the size of the final joint of my thumb.  My image is of a female.  She’s one of my favorites, less flashy than some of the other hummingbirds that I photographed, but remarkably graceful.

The species that seemed to predominate was the Lesser Violetear.  This is a large hummingbird, about  five inches long (about 12.7cm) and brilliantly colored.  He showed off his amazing plumage even in overcast weather.  The infrequent sunny moments had him glowing like neon.

I much prefer natural light to flash photography when photographing hummingbirds.  Natural light looks, well, more natural than images illuminated by flash.  If natural light is ideal, as it was when I made these images, it brings out the iridescence of the hummingbird’s plumage every bit as well as does flash, and the backgrounds are prettier than with flash pictures.  I made all of these images at a moderately slow shutter speed, 1/1250th of a second.  I knew that this shutter speed would produce some motion blur in the birds’ wings.  But, I actually prefer some blur when I photograph hummingbirds.  These birds beat their wings at a rate of about 70 times per second.  In flight, their wings invariably are a blur when we view them with our unaided eyes.  So, an image with a bit of motion blur looks more natural, in my opinion, then when the wings are frozen by a very short flash duration.

During the two hours that I photographed these birds I repeatedly attempted to obtain images showing two birds feeding simultaneously.  This was an extremely difficult challenge, for two reasons.  First, getting two birds in the same focal plane is damn near impossible.  I made dozens of images with one bird in sharp focus and a second bird out of focus.  Second, hummingbirds are not sociable.  When two birds approach a food source simultaneously, it’s only a matter of a second or two before one individual attempts to drive off the other.

But perseverance pays off.  I finally hit the jackpot .  The birds are a Lesser Violetear and a Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

Out of all of the images that I brought back from Costa Rica — several thousand — I’m happiest with these last two.  It’s always a delight when everything works.  And, that’s made more enjoyable by the fact that everything almost never works.

Images made with Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L zoom lens, monopod supported, M setting (auto ISO), f5.6 @ 1/1250.

4 Replies to “Hummingbirds In Natural Light”

  1. Carol Helming says:

    Lovely photos, and your comments add the emotion associated with bird photography. We enjoyed a rainy day of forced rest but had to watch the antbirds and others after the rain as they tried to catch flying insects. I do love all of the hummingbirds. Carol

  2. J Ghishan says:

    Fabulous photos, Steve!

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Sue says:


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