Hummingbird Photography

An Online Guide - Part 4:

Feeders, Flowers and Backgrounds

 
1
High Speed
Flash
2
The Outdoor Studio
3
Exposure
and Light
4
Feeders and Flowers
5
Equipment
Advice
 

Feeder & Flowers
Feeder and Flowers
(click to enlarge)

Feeders

For setups I often use tube feeders (Perky Pets makes one) to attract the birds, and hide them behind flower blossoms. By careful arrangement, it appears that the bird is feeding from the flower, and the feeder can’t be seen. (The compression effect of telephoto lenses contributes to this illusion.)

Setting this up, and lighting it, can become quite elaborate—and lots of fun! I have often spent as much time positioning the flowers around the feeder as I have on all the lights and other arrangements. (And sometimes the wings of the impatient birds have brushed against my fingers as we compete for "feeder time"!)

Backgrounds and Flowers

If you arrange the strobes on the bird to be much brighter than the ambient light, the background will go black unless you take steps to counteract this. Also, if your distant background is in bright sun, a "ghost" image of the bird silhouetted on the background can occur. So the next element of our outdoor studio is the background.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
(click to enlarge)

For a simple background you can use matboards from an art supply store, which are available in a wealth of colors. By placing one perhaps 18 inches from the bird, enough light may spill over onto it from the flashes lighting the bird, but beware of shadows. Dedicating one or more lights to the background will help. A flash meter is invaluable for balancing this light. Move the background flash until the background reading is the same as the reading for the bird—or vary the ratio for creative effects.

Matboards provide a clean background, but can also look artificial. After you’ve gotten proficient, you can try adding painted backgrounds or flowers. Three dimensional backgrounds such as flowers or plants require special attention to lighting, otherwise deep and unnatural shadows may result. For such situations, I often dedicate two or even three flashes to the background.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
(click to enlarge)

The photo on the right required three lights on the bird (positioned so as to not burn out the flower it's "feeding" from), one light on the background plant to augment the light spilling over from the bird, and yet another light on a painted matboard behind the background flowers (to prevent the "holes" in the plant from going black).

Visualizing Your Results

With some experience you will be able to predict the effects of lighting on complicated and three dimensional setups. Keep in mind that, for the most part, "what you see is not what you get," particularly if your flashes are much brighter than ambient.

Instead, try to picture the results as if you were shooting at night, with the only light coming from your strobes. (If you were in a darkened studio, you could rely on modeling lights on your strobes to preview your results, but that’s not practical outdoors.)

Before the advent of digital SLRs, I routinely used overnight or same-day E-6 processing to check my results. If you are shooting medium format, you can use a Polaroid back. Digital SLR bodies are a great advantage for this type of flash photography, since you can immediately see your results. And the quality is good enough that many of my participants shoot entirely in digital now—and we have a digital slideshow of their results later that day! More ...

 
1
High Speed
Flash
2
The Outdoor Studio
3
Exposure
and Light
4
Feeders and Flowers
5
Equipment
Advice