Patricia Ware: Blog en-us (C) Patricia Ware (Patricia Ware) Sat, 31 Mar 2018 21:34:00 GMT Sat, 31 Mar 2018 21:34:00 GMT Keeping the Keepers Good photographs, that’s what it’s all about.  Once I take them, I want to keep only the best and get rid of the rest.  So I need to judge:  Is the subject too small in the frame? Is it out of focus?  Are the whites blown out and is there enough detail in the shadows?  These are a few of  the things that I evaluate. 

However, even if a shot is technically flawless, I may not choose to keep it if it doesn't speak to me.  It needs to say, "This is a perfect moment in time." Like when the Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its beak.

Elegant TernElegant Tern with Two FishElegant Tern comes out of the water with two fish at Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve in Huntington Beach, California.

Or my photo needs to tell me a story.  This one shows how one Snowy Egret aggressively chases off another from its territory. 

Snowy Egret AggressionSnowy Egret AggressionA Snowy Egret chases another Snowy Egret on the beach in Playa del Rey, California

Or the photo needs to evoke a feeling or an emotion.  This shot elicited confidence showing a Black-necked Stilt holding her head high while taking a big stride.

A Confident StrideA Confident StrideA Black-necked Stilt walks confidently in Ballona Wetlands, Playa del Rey, California.


Whatever the criteria I use to make these judgments, I need to be able to preview the image at 100%.  And I need to do this quickly with little wait time so I can move on to the next shot. Even though I can preview my images in Lightroom, it’s WAY too slow.  I need something much faster, and Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits meets that need.  Photo Mechanic is a super-fast image browser that speeds up my workflow.  This software saves me serious time in my first-pass review to cull for rejected photos.  It loads quickly so I can immediately see the photo in high resolution.  I can check whether the eye is in perfect focus or use any other criterion to decide if the shot is worth keeping.   

Not only must I decide which photos to keep, but I also need to decide where to store my photos.  When I started out taking photos, I would store them on external hard drives.  This was an easy solution that worked quite well until one day one when one of my hard drives failed.  I had a sickening realization that I had messed up.  I tried everything to get it back.  I even took it to a person specializing in hard drive recovery and he was unsuccessful.  Fortunately, I was able to recover my photos by attaching the hard drive to a different computer, but I learned my lesson.  I now store my photos in multiple places.  

I first copy my camera memory card a 2 TB portable external hard drive.  I do my first culling and then make a second copy of the keepers to a 16 TB RAID external hard drive.  Once the smaller hard drive is full, I move it into a file cabinet in our detached garage and replace it with a new hard drive.

Additionally, I pay $50 yearly for online backup using Backblaze which automatically backups all my files on one computer as well as my portable and my RAID external hard drives.  Presently, I have over 8 terabytes in their cloud.  

Some people are turned off by the initial predicted upload time by Backblaze.  However, it took me much less time.  Of course, I have everything set for speed: I leave my computer on day and night, I have FiOS, which has blazing fast upload speeds, and in the Backblaze settings, I turn off automatic throttle and manually set it to use the most Internet bandwidth available.  Backblaze is simple to use and it keeps my folder structure the same as it is on my computer.  In fact, I’ve used it for several years now and during this time, my computer crashed.  I easily restored my files on my new computer.  

Along with Backblaze, I upload my photos to the Amazon Cloud, whose price is included with my prime membership. This gives me added security, but for me, it's not as easy to retrieve photos as Backblaze.  I also store and organize my high-resolution jpegs on Flickr.  However, I primarily use Flickr for its social network.   On Flickr I can view, interact, and learn in a huge community of professional and amateur photographers.   And my last storage site is right here on Zenfolio, which also is my personal website to showcase my photos.  To some, these multiple places to store my photos may seem like over kill, but I certainly have peace of mind.  

To recap here's how I keep the keepers:

  1. After a shoot, I cull my photos using Photo Mechanic deleting those that do not meet my standards  and storing the keepers on a small portable hard drive.
  2. I make a second copy of the keepers on a Desktop RAID External hard drive.
  3. Once the small portable hard drive is full, I move it out of the house.
  4. I use Backblaze to backup my computer and external hard drives to the cloud.
  5. I also backup my photos to the Amazon Cloud. Flickr, and Zenfolio.
(Patricia Ware) Amazon Cloud Backblaze Camera Bits Flickr Photo Mechanic Zenfolio culling photos keepers storage Wed, 16 Nov 2016 20:28:49 GMT
Hooked on Hummingbird Flash Photography Allen's HummungbirdAllen's HummingbirdAllen's Hummingbird shows beauty in flight.

Given their extraordinary speed and maneuverability as well as their small size, flying hummingbirds are challenging to photograph.  A high shutter speed is needed to get a good shot with minimal motion blur.  But you also need ample light to keep your ISO low enough to avoid too much noise in your shot.


But what if you want to photograph hummingbirds in low light as was my situation?  Even though Allen’s Hummingbirds are in my yard year-round, I couldn’t get good shots of them because my backyard has many shade trees.  I needed a method to freeze the motion of these speedsters in low light without creating a shot with too much noise. 


So I turned to off camera flashes.  With multiple flashes, the flash stops the motion not the shutter speed.  Moreover, by using multiple flashes, the ISO could be kept in the range from 100 – 400 hundred which would keep the noise down.


Therefore, an outdoor hummingbird studio set up with multiple flashes was a perfect solution for my backyard hummingbird photography.  And ample shade turned out to be a bonus because shade is a necessity in reducing the natural light when using multiple flashes.


I’m writing this blog to share what I’ve learned about creating a backyard hummingbird studio because I'm now hooked on high speed multiple flash photography for hummingbirds.  In this blog I'll describe the equipment I use and  explain how to shoot and process these flying jewels with high speed flash photography.  My methods are not the only ones; I'm writing this as a starting point for you to get inspiration.


A Backyard Hummingbird Studio


A backyard hummingbird studio has the following elements:

  • Hummingbirds in a Shady Setting
  • A Camera, Lens, and Tripod
  • Multiple flashes with a Way to Trigger Them
  • Artificial Background, Flowers, and Feeder


Hummingbirds in a Shady Setting


The more you learn about your subject, the easier it is to anticipate its behavior and capture expressive images.  And hummingbirds are truly fascinating as they have unique characteristics.


No bird can more precisely control the change in their directional movement in mid-air as precisely as a hummingbird.  These tiny flying gems are the only true hoverers who can remain in place as long as they wish.  Unlike other birds who “wind hover” by flying into the wind at a speed equal to the wind, hummingbirds use their strength to hover.  When hovering, they move their wings in a shallow figure-eight pattern (with the “eight” lying on its side).  30% of a hummingbird's weight consists of flight muscles – the most powerful muscles per unit mass of any vertebrate.


By means of their mobile shoulder joints and flight muscles, they generate lift on both the backward and forward strokes giving them the unique ability to fly backwards and even upside down! 


They are the smallest flying vertebrate.  Allen’s Hummingbirds, who frequent my backyard, are just 9 cm or 3.75 inches weighing 2 grams or 0.1 ounces.   As a point of reference, a penny weighs 2.5 grams.


Hummingbirds beat their wings incredibly fast – from 20 to 80 beats per second.  They fly an average of 25-30 miles per hour and dive up to 60 miles per hour.


To support the rapid beating of their wings, hummingbirds must expend a lot of energy.  They have the highest metabolism in the animal kingdom.  To meet their energy demands, they feed every 10 – 15 minutes eating small soft bugs for protein, lapping up nectar from flowers, or drinking sugar water from feeders.


Hummingbirds are very smart:  a hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.  They can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill. 


This need for continual nourishment makes them very protective of their food sources. They will perch high near flowers or feeders and pursue other hummingbirds.  Male hummingbirds, especially Allen Hummingbirds which live in my backyard, are very aggressive and will chase off competitors from the yard.  Even though hummingbirds will fight using their bills as weapons and will bump chests mid-air, they are rarely injured during fights.


Despite their needing to feed a lot, hummingbirds spend most of their life perching.  They like to perch on very small branches or wires up high so they can observe other hummingbirds entering their territory.  Their feet are very small and weak, so they never walk – they must fly from place to place. 


Hummingbirds bathe several times a day.  You can get wonderful shots of them in garden fountains or playing in the sprinklers.


If you don’t already have hummingbirds in your yard, you will need to attract them.  They are drawn to the color red and tubular types of flowers.  Grow flowers that appeal to hummingbirds such as Chinese Lantern, Aloe Vera, Columbine, Bottlebrush, Fuchsia, Honeysuckle, Pride of Madeira, or Sage.  Put up several feeders and filled with sugar water.  The recipe is easy – one part sugar to four parts water.   


Once you have a yard with hummingbirds, you then need to find a spot in the shade for your studio.  When you fire multiple flashes, shade is needed to overpower the surrounding light so the flash, not the shutter speed, controls the motion.  If you have too much ambient light, your shot may have wing ghosting which is multiple images of the same wing. 


The more shade you have, the easier it is to block natural light.  With very little ambient light, quick and simultaneous flashes can freeze the motion of the wings of the hummingbird in flight.


Your proximity or movement is another consideration for the location of your outdoor studio.  Some hummingbirds are more skittish than others.  Allen’s Hummingbirds, the ones that frequent my backyard, do not like movement, so I needed a place where I could easily hide.  My kitchen turned out to be the perfect place. 


I could use my kitchen as a blind and shoot through the kitchen window onto the shaded patio. When I darkened my kitchen as much as I could, turned off all the lights and covered the windows, the Allen’s Hummingbirds had more difficulty seeing me or my camera through the window. My window is low, so I could shoot seated behind the kitchen table, which obscures most of my body.  To hide the movement of my hands, I could throw a cloth over the barrel of my lens.


Not only do hummingbirds dislike movement, they also do not like the clicking sound of the camera.  I think it’s because it sounds similar to the sound of another hummingbird.  Shutting all the windows and doors other than the window I’m shooting through helped to muffle the sound of my camera. 


Selasphorus sasinAllen's Hummingbird in FlightAllen's Hummingbird flies by yellow Orchid in Manhattan Beach, California.


A Camera, Lens, and Tripod



Most any 35 mm digital SLR camera will work for high speed flash photography. Just make sure to use a camera that is compatible with your wireless triggers. The camera I use is a Canon 1D Mark IV.



I shoot hummingbirds in my backyard for long periods of time with a heavy lens, so I find hand holding too tiring for my outdoor studio. Therefore, I use a tripod.  Most any reasonable tripod will be suffice as long as its strong enough to hold the camera and lens. Vibration of the tripod legs shouldn’t be a problem because of the short flash durations. I use a Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod which is very stable and versatile for the heavy lens I use. 


Tripod Head

Because hummingbirds move so fast, you need to be able to track them quickly.  Gimbal tripod heads allow rapid and smooth adjustments of the lens in any direction.  Any gimbal-style tripod head should be fine.  I use a Wimberley II Gimbal Head.



Many hummingbirds, especially juveniles, are accepting and tolerate of people photographing them from a close range.  But I find that most hummingbirds are not as trusting.  I use two lenses for hummingbird photography: the 400 mm 5.6 lens for handheld shots and the 500 mm 4.0 for tripods.  Both give enough distance from the hummingbird not to frighten it by your proximity.  And both of these lenses are prime lenses, which are sharper than zoom lenses.


Extension Tubes

I usually couple a 36mm Kenko Extension Tube with my lenses.  Extension tubes enable the lens to focus closer than its normal set minimum focusing distance. By adding an extension tube, I can fill a significant part of the frame with the world’s tiniest birds while also capturing its fine feather details. 


Multiple flashes with a Way to Trigger Them


I already owned a Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash and I chose to add 430EX II Speedlites. They are compatible with my camera and the Phottix Odin Flash Trigger.  They have fast recycle time and are dependable.  I am now using six flashes in all. 


Light stands

Most any light stand will do. I use the Westcott 8-Feet Lightweight Stands – one for each flash unit.  You can use fewer if you attach more than one flash to a light stand.


Spring Clamps 

I put spring clamps on some of the light stands and use the clamp’s built-in ballhead to position the flash exactly where I want it.  I use the Manfrotto Justin Spring Clamp with Flash Shoe.  Its ballhead allows directional placement of a flash in a multitude of configurations.  It’s also strong enough to easily support large, heavy flashes like the 580EX II and it’s great for mounting multiple flashes on a single light stand. 


Wireless Triggers and Receivers

I use the Phottix Odin wireless TTL flash trigger system that operates via radio frequency.  I mount a Phottix Odin Flash Transmitter Control Unit on my camera and mount each flash on a Phottix Odin ­­Receiver.  The Phottix Odin wireless triggers and receivers are simple to use and work at a great distance without requiring line of sight. 


Batteries and Chargers

AA batteries are required for the transmitter, receiver, and flashes.  I use rechargeable batteries. You need six batteries for each flash/receiver unit and two for the transmitter.  I put in fresh batteries when I recharge my old ones. If you have several 12 bay chargers, you can charge all of the batteries at once.


Artificial Background, Flowers, and Feeder


Artificial Background

One of the best ways to eliminate distracting elements in the background is to create an artificial background.  It’s easy to do.  Just photograph some flowers out of focus, add a Gaussian blur in Photoshop, and then make some prints. 


Because the largest paper I could fit in the printer was 13 x 19 inches that was the size I printed.  The size of this background is small, which in turn necessitates precise positioning in the set up.  A background 18 x 24 inches or larger would have been better so I would have had more wiggle room with the placement behind the hummingbird. 


I only had glossy paper when I made my prints.  Matte paper would have been better than glossy because it’s not as reflective.  When I use one of these glossy prints, I have to reposition my flashes on the background because sometimes I get glare which creates hot spots.   Both the small size as well as the glossy paper makes it take more time for me to set up my background.


I use a music stand to hold my artificial background, so I don’t need to add a backing.  But if you clamp your background to a light stand, you will need to make it rigid by taping or gluing them to foam board or a thin piece of plywood. 


There are many other options for making a background:

  • You can paint various color splotches of flat paint on a thin plywood board
  • You can purchase mat board from an art supply stor
  • You can use a muslin backdrop panel
  • You can hang a patterned piece of material or sheet
  • You can create posters out one of your blurred backgrounds.


You might want to add more depth to your background by adding flowering plants in front of the artificial background.  Position the plants at a distance from the feeder so that it will create a pleasing bokeh. 




Flowers and hummingbirds are a beautiful combination.  Add flowers to your hummingbird shots to create more interest.  Hummingbirds prefer tubular types of flowers.  If you don’t have any tubular flowers in your garden, I find Alstroemeria from the supermarket are inexpensive, readily available, and large enough to hide a tube feeder.  




I like to use Flower Pot One Tube Hummingbird Feeder because I can hide the tube with flowers.  I attach the tube to a Wimberley PP-200 Plamp II which is clamped to a small table.  I use a second Plamp to hold the flowers.  The Plamp makes it possible to adjust the position or angle of the feeder tube as well as the flower.  Flowers can also be taped to the tube.


Selasphorus sasinAllen's HummingbirdAllen's Hummingbird in flight with Lily in the foreground in backyard, Manhattan Beach, California.


Set-up Procedure and Processing


  1. Batteries


Insert charged batteries into the camera, transmitter, receivers, and flashes. 

  1. Transmitter

With the camera off, attach the Odin transmitter to the hot shoe of your camera and lock with the locking mechanism. Turn on the transmitter and then turn on the camera. Set the transmitter to TTL, Manual, 1/32 power, Channel 1

  1. Receivers and flashes

Turn off the flashes and the Phottix Odin receivers.  Attach each receiver to the top of the flash stands or to the Justin Spring Clamps/flash stand combinations.  Attach each flash to the shoe on top of each of the Odin receivers and lock with the locking mechanisms. Set each Odin receiver to channel 1 and assign each receiver to group A.   

Turn on each receiver and then turn on each flash.  Using the back of the flashes, set each flash to manual mode with 1/32 power.

Your Phottix Odin has a button to test if all of your flashes are firing.

  1. Feeder and flowers


Take down all other feeders in your yard other than the one you will be photographing.


I use a small table for my feeder and flowers.  Attach the clamp end of a Plamp to the table and have the other end hold the wire of the Flower Pot One Tube Hummingbird Feeder.  Using a second Plamp, attach the clamp end to the table and insert a flower in the other end.  You could also hide the test tube feeder with a flower taped to it.  Arrange the test tube feeder and flower so that the flower hides the test tube.


I have not yet perfected a method for hiding the test tube feeder with flowers and sometimes have to clone out a portion of the feeder in Photoshop.


  1. Arrange the artificial background and flash


Put the artificial background 3 – 6 feet behind the feeder.  If you are using a small background, you can use one flash.  A larger background will need two flashes for even lighting.  If you are using one flash, position the flash about two feet away from the artificial background aimed at the middle.  Or, if you are using two flashes, position them on either side of the background and aim each so each covers 2/3 of the background.


  1. Arrange the flashes around the feeder

I sometimes use a stuffed hummingbird to pre-focus and check the placement of the flashes.  The hummingbird I use was purchased Touch of Nature on Amazon.  I use a Pamp to hold the it in place.


Four or more flashes will give good lighting and stop motion.  Place one overhead and behind the bird. Place two more in front on the level of the target area for the bird and camera at approximately 45 degrees from each side at about 18 inches from the hummingbird. Have one flash in front of and lower than the feeder.  Aim it toward at the gorget. 


To adjust the amount of light coming from the flashes, move the light stands closer or further away from the target.


  1. Camera Settings


Use autofocus and set your lens’ limit-range switch to the near-range setting so you can acquire focus quickly.  Use back button focus and front button trigger; single shot, AI SERVO (continual tracking), and single center focusing.


Shoot manually.  My preferred aperture is f/22, however you can shoot as wide as f/16. 


Remember that the flash stops motion not the shutter speed, so I set my shutter speed at 1/160.  You want to freeze the wings and a faster flash speed, like a faster shutter speed, will freeze motion better.  Wing blur means that ambient light is present, the flash is not set fast enough, or that it is not synchronized.  I set the flash speed at 1/32 to freeze wing motion. 


To avoid noise, shoot as low as you can preferably below 400. 

I usually set my ISO at 200.  I use the ISO as well as the f/stop for exposure control. If the shot is still too bright, I move the flash further away or closer, if the shot is too dark.


  1. Take a test shot and reposition the flashes if needed.  Bring them in closer for more light and further away for less.  Change the ISO or aperture as needed to increase or decrease light.


  1. Processing


Shoot in Camera Raw and make adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop.  Remove all but one of the multiple highlights in the eye by using the spot removal tool in Lightroom or the clone stamp or patch tool in Photoshop.  Also remove any part of the feeder that is showing by using similar techniques.



I hope you found this blog useful for your hummingbird high speed photography.  Like me, you may become hooked especially when you see the fine definition you get in your photographs.


I greatly appreciate all of the people who take the time to comment.  Thank you!


All the best ~ Patricia


(Patricia Ware) a backyard hummingbird studio artificial background flowers and feeder camera settings for hummingbird photography ghosting high speed flash photography hummingbird behavior hummingbirds in a shady setting hummingbirds in flight hummingbirds" multiple flashes multiple flashes with a way to trigger them phottix odin wireless ttl flash trigger system recommended equipment for hummingbird photography set-up procedure for hummingbird photography Wed, 11 Nov 2015 01:06:47 GMT
Photographing Hummingbirds in the Wild  


Phaethornis striigularisStriped-throated HermitStripe-throated Hermit in flight drinks nectar from Torch Ginger. Allen's HummingbirdAllen's HummingbirdAllen's Hummingbird with red gorget approached a single flower at the South Coast Botanic Garden, Palos Verdes, California. Anna's HummingbirdAnna's HummingbirdAnna's Hummingbird drinks nectar with repeating patterns of Pride of Maderia in the background. Black-chinned hummingbird in FlightBlack-chinned hummingbird in FlightBlack-chinned hummingbird sips nectar from Pride of Madeira in Huntington Beach, California. Costa's HummingbirdCosta's HummingbirdCosta's Hummingbird with purple gorget plays in sprinkler at Vallecito, Anza Borrego State Park, California.



Some of the most beautiful photos that I’ve taken have been of Hummingbirds in flight.  Hummingbirds not only have brilliant iridescent colors, but they are also attracted to the nectar of lovely flowers.  This combination, Hummingbirds and flowers, makes for one gorgeous shot. 


Many people use flash photography to capture Hummingbirds; however, I like to travel light with little equipment.  I also prefer to handhold my camera for flight shots.  I can track the Hummingbird more easily and even quickly move to a nearby location which I can do if I don’t have to pick up and move a tripod.  So this blog will describe how I take photographs of Hummingbirds in the wild without the use of a flash.


Know your Subject:
Hummingbirds migrate and are more abundant during certain times of the year. They also are attracted to certain flowers.  Lists of these flowers are found on the Internet.  Research which flowers attract Hummingbirds and go to places that have those flowers when they are blooming and Hummingbirds are around.  In Southern California, for example, Huntington Beach Central Park is known for its Hummingbirds in spring when the Pride of Madeira is blooming.  The Los Angeles Arboretum also gets a large population of Hummers when the Salvia and the Aloe are blooming.  


Photographers flock to both of these public gardens when Hummingbirds are migrating.   But you can also find these small hovering birds in less crowded spots such as pocket parks where the same types of flowers grow.  I prefer these smaller areas for I often have them to myself.


I use a Canon 1D Mark iv to take my Hummingbird shots.  When a Hummingbird is near, I can take many as 10 frames per second.  Other photographers prefer taking one shot in an effort not to scare the Hummingbirds.  They really do not like the sound of the click of the camera. 


My preferred lens for these wee ones is a Canon 400mm 5.6 prime lens.  It’s very sharp and I can stand at a good distance from the Hummer and still get a close-up.  The 400 is light enough for me to maneuver quickly and for long periods of time. 


Once you are proficient in taking shots with a telephoto lens, you might want to add an extension tube so you can get really close.  I sometimes add a 36 mm Kenko extension tube.  Kenko tubes are less expensive than the Canon tubes and are just as effective. 


Extension tubes don't magnify the telephoto end of your lens, like a teleconverter would.  Extension tubes just allow you to get closer to the Hummingbird.  In other words, you can fill the more of the frame with this tiny bird while still achieving focus.  Image quality is retained and only a bit of light is lost.  As long as you’re using tubes with full electronic contacts, another advantage is no slowdown in Autofocus.  If you want more full-frame shots, use an extension tube.


Camera Settings:
In a previous blog post, I discussed my camera settings for birds in flight.  These same settings hold true for smaller birds in flight such as Hummingbirds.  I shoot in Camera RAW using Autofocus and Manual exposure.  I expose for the bird, not the background.


Aperture: I leave my camera with my 400mm lens at its largest aperture, which is 5.6.


ISO: I want to greatest shutter speed I can have without creating too much noise.  Springtime in Southern California is often overcast with white skies and moisture in the air, so I need to use a high ISO.  It’s usually 1000, but I will venture to 1250, 1600 or even higher if need be.


Shutter Speed: My preferred shutter speed is 2500 and higher to freeze the wings.  However, if the day is dark, then I will reduce my shutter speed to 1000.


​On location:
Once I have arrived at a location where Hummingbirds feed, I place myself in the best lighting position and try to hide from the birds as best I can.  That usually means standing or sitting very still in the shadows.  A Walkstool, a lightweight, folding stool, is great stable seat for this downtime.  If there is a bush or tree nearby, I will use it as a hide. I patiently wait and enjoy my surroundings.  I have pre-focused where I think the bird will be and then when the Hummer is in a good position for a shot, I aim at the center of the bird and blast away.  It’s easy to get an in focus shot when the Hummingbird is feeding, but it’s very difficult if they are flying to or from the flower.


Because I shoot in camera RAW, I need to adjust my settings in Lightroom or Photoshop.  I use Neat Image for Noise Reduction.  I often make two Layers, one for the background and one for the bird, masking out the background.  I will apply more noise reduction to the background than the bird, where I want to bring out the detail. In fact, i usually use Tonal Contrast from Nik to bring out even more detail in the bird.


With practice you can get wonderful shots of these tiny flying jewels.
All the best ~ Patricia


Here is my gallery of Hummingbirds.  I have even more to add - it's a work in progress.  I hope you enjoy the shots!

(Patricia Ware) Camera settings for photographing Hummingbirds How to hide from Hummingbirds gear for photographing Hummingbirds learn the types of flowers Hummingbirds prefer learn when hummingbirds are in your area Sun, 26 Jul 2015 20:52:53 GMT
Tips for Photographing Birds in Flight Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane



My passion is shooting birds in flight, and it’s a skill that takes practice.  However, a few tips may make it easier to get a sharp in-focus shot.


My Lenses for Birds in Flight: 

First, I find by hand holding my camera rather than using a tripod, it is easier to track the bird.  So I when I was first starting out, I wanted lens that was lightweight enough for me to handhold, was sharp, and was affordable.  My first lens for birds in flight that met these criteria was Canon 300mm 4.0 lens.  It was relatively lightweight and easy to manipulate.  As I took more photographs of birds in flight, I found that I wanted more reach so I often coupled it with 1.4 teleconverter and was able to get good shots even though the autofocus was slower with the teleconverter. 


Now, I primarily use either the 400 5.6 lens, which is relatively lightweight and very sharp.  It is my lens of choice when taking shots of hummingbirds.  Or, if I want more reach for birds farther away such as raptors, I will use 500mm 4.0 lens, which is heavy but I am still able to handhold it.  


Memory Cards:

I prefer cards that let me capture multiple frames per second, for fast-action or continuous burst mode photography.   I have found that SanDisk Extreme Pro memory cards are both fast and reliable cards.


Camera Settings:

A previous blog post discusses my camera settings.  My shutter speed is usually set at 1/1000 or higher.  When I shoot really fast birds like hummingbirds and want to freeze the wings, I prefer 1/3200 or higher.   I try to keep the shutter speed as high as I think I can get away with to eliminate as much wing motion as I can.  I use auto focus and make sure the focus search is on and I set the tracking sensitivity to slow. 


Another earlier blog post describes how I meter for birds in flight.  To test if my exposure is correct, I expose on something that doesn't move that has the same coloring and in the same sun position as the bird. I always expose for the subject, not the background

How I Hand-hold My Lenses:

Since I am not using a tripod, it’s important that I use my body as a tripod.  I stand with my feet about shoulder width apart; my right foot may be slightly in front of the left.  My eye is firmly pressed against the viewfinder eyepiece so my body now acts as a tripod. 


For all of my lenses, I turn the tripod mount to the side and use it for a handle for carrying and so it will be out of my way when I hand hold the lens.  When I shoot, my left hand is cupped underneath and near the end of the lens and my elbow is pointed toward the ground, not out to the side, which gives me more stability.  My right hand is relaxed holding the camera, and I am able to quickly move my body as I track the bird.



I switch the focusing distance range on the lens to the most suitable distance so the actual autofocusing time will be shorter.  If I am shooting hummingbirds, for example, I will set it to the closest range; whereas if I am shooting birds at a greater distance such as raptors, I will use the longest range.


I pre-focus on something that is about the same distance away as I expect the bird will be.  This speeds up the autofocus.  I can then focus on the bird more quickly when it does arrive.  I use the center focus point for birds in flight. I aim for the center of the body as the bird is so small and it's really tough to get the head. 

Bump Focus Technique:

Bump focus is simply letting off the focus and then refocusing quickly.  I learned this technique from a workshop presented by Jim Niger.  It is useful when you are tracking a bird in flight and you accidently focus on the background rather than the bird, and you want to return the focus to the bird as quickly as possible. 


First, make sure you have your camera set to acquire focus more quickly by setting the tracking sensitivity custom function on your camera to slow which gives the longest delay possible. 


Next, when you see a flying bird in the distance, look through your viewfinder and get it in focus. Then, let off the focus and just track it in the viewfinder.  As the distance changes and the bird gets out of focus, quickly obtain focus again by pointing at the center of the bird and focusing. 


Finally, when the bird is at the spot where you want to take photos, focus, and shoot in burst mode.  


All the best ~ Patricia


(Patricia Ware) bump focus technique how to hand-hold cameras for birds in flight lenses for birds in flight pre-focus for birds in flight Sun, 05 Apr 2015 21:41:19 GMT
Camera Settings for Birds in Flight Peregrine FalconPeregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon flies overhead.



Everyone wants sharp, in-focus shots, and with the right camera settings it's easier to reach that goal.  I use a great camera for shooting wildlife, a Canon 1D mark iv, and I'd like to share some of the camera settings which I have found useful for photographing birds in flight.  Even though you may use a different camera make or model,  you may find that many of the features on your camera are the same even if the terms are different.


Autofocus:  Use AI Servo Autofocus.  

The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence.  This algorithm determines the speed and the direction of fast moving subjects when their focusing distance keeps changing. Flying birds meet these criteria, so AI Servo Autofocus allows me to better track flying birds.


Drive Mode: Set it to High-speed continuous shooting.

On my Canon 1D mark iv, I am able to get 10 shots per second.  When the action is at its greatest, clicking 10 shots per second gives me more opportunities to capture the action at its peak. 

Autofocus Point:  Use the center autofocus for birds in flight.  

If I am shooting against a varied background such as trees or bushes, I will use the center autofocus point and aim for the center of the bird.  If I know I will be shooting against a plain background such as a blue sky, I will use the center autofocus point plus surrounding AF point expansion.  


AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity: Set to SLOW.  

Setting the tracking sensitivity to slow allows me to refocus on the bird in flight more quickly when the camera locks its focus on the background rather than on the bird.


Back-button Autofocus:  Customize the camera so that focusing is performed by pressing a rear button with the right thumb.

By doing this, my index finger on the shutter button doesn’t control the focus activation, but rather a button controlled by my thumb initiates focusing. 


  • If the bird is perched, it's easier for me to lock focus on the bird’s eye, and then recompose the shot to move the subject off-center.

  • It’s easier for me to time my shots because my index finger is free to shoot whenever the action is at its height.  Putting my right thumb on the back button to keep focus active allows me to use my index finger at just the right moment to shoot and still have focus.

  • It’s easier for me to focus on moving subjects.  I can pull my thumb off the rear button when the bird is not in focus and then pop it on again when it is. 


Which button for Back-button AF: Switch the AF-ON button with the AE Lock button (with the asterisk icon).  

I exchanged these two buttons because the AE Lock button is closer to the shutter button and making it much easier to reach.


Register Settings: Register these settings in the camera.

I can change any particular setting as I shoot and my camera will return to my settings when I turn it off.  But there have been occasions when I've really messed up my settings and I have found myself needing to reset back to my original birds-in-flight settings.  I can easily return to these settings because I have registered them in my camera as one of the custom functions.


You can find directions for changing your settings by looking in your manual or by reading tutorials by Canon or your camera manufacturer. My Canon camera settings have helped me to take sharp photos of birds in flight!


All the best ~ Patricia






(Patricia Ware) AI Servo Autofocus AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity Autofocus Point Back-button Autofocus Drive Mode camera settings Sun, 15 Feb 2015 22:17:24 GMT
Metering for Birds in Flight


Learning how to meter using manual exposure has been the most important skill I have learned to become a better bird photographer.   Manual exposure allows me to fine tune my settings for birds in flight with just a few clicks of the dial to bring out details in both dark and light colored birds. Here’s how I go about it.


I often shoot Terns on the bridge at Bolsa Chica in Huntington Beach, California.  I usually arrive early in the morning when the light is low or soft. 


First, I need to get my preliminary camera settings using these parameters:

-I set my camera using the upper limits of my the noise level I find acceptable,

- I set the aperture wide open,

- and then I choose the slowest shutter speed I think I need for the bird.



For me, 1000 is the highest ISO setting that I like to use to retain detail without too much noise.  I do go higher than this in low light, but  when I do, I need to do more work in post processing to reduce the noise and I also lose more detail in the shot.  



Because I usually shoot with a 500mm 4.0 lens or a 400mm 5.6 lens, I set my aperture wide open to one of these settings.  


Shutter Speed:  

Terns are relatively quick birds, so I want a shutter speed between 1/1000 – 1/2500 or even faster if I’m trying to get diving shots.  It’s early morning and the light is low, so I set my shutter speed to 1/1000.  I may go to 1/800 or even slower if there really isn’t much light. 


In this low light example, these camera settings: ISO 1000, aperture f/4.0, and shutter speed 1/1000, give me a basic starting point.


Meter off the green foliage:

Now, I am ready to meter my exposure off something that is readily available with the same light from which I expect to shoot the Terns and is large enough to fill in the frame. Fortunately, on the west side of the bridge there is green ground cover which is perfect for my needs.  I set my camera to evaluative metering for this gives me the most reliable results for metering.  (Spot metering is too chancy for it’s easily thrown off by bright highlights or dark shadows in foliage.)  Then making sure the sun is behind me, I fill the frame with green foliage and I take a test shot.


I use my camera exposure level indicator to see if I’ve exposed correctly for the green foliage.  I want the exposure level indicator set in the middle.  If it’s not, I make adjustments with my settings to get it there.  If the indicator is to the right, the camera is advising me that the green foliage is over-exposed.  If I've over-exposed the shot, I need to either decrease the ISO or increase the shutter speed or aperture.  If the exposure level indicator is to the left saying that the shot is underexposed, I usually will increase the ISO.  I keep taking test shots and making adjustments until the exposure level indicator is in the middle.   All of this preparation helps me to properly expose for the bird – in this case a white Tern.


Expose for the bird, not the background:

The green foliage serves as a reference point to expose for the Terns.  My goal is to expose for the bird and not the background.  I know Terns are mostly white and brighter than the green foliage (and I don’t want to blow out the whites), so I need to decrease the exposure. 


To do this, I have some choices.  I can either increase my shutter speed or use a smaller aperture (such as increasing my f stop from 4.0 to 5.6), or by decreasing my ISO.


In this example, it’s just after sunrise and the light is dim, so to properly expose for Terns I may need to decrease my exposure from my green reference by only 1/3 of a stop.  Throughout the day, as the sun rises higher and the light gets stronger, I may need to further decrease my exposure from one to even two stops.


The process would be the same if I were trying to shoot a darker birds such Brown Pelicans. Again, I use the green bushes of my test shot as a reference.  I know Brown Pelicans are darker than the green foliage, so I would need increase my exposure. And because they usually fly more slowly than Terns, to increase my exposure I can either decrease the shutter speed or increase my ISO.  I can’t change the aperture because I have already set it to it wide open.


Put in the time and effort to learn manual exposure and expose for the bird, not the background.  The more you practice and the more often you go back to a birding location at the same time of day, the easier it gets! 


All the best ~ Patricia


(Patricia Ware) exposing for birds in flight exposure metering for birds in flight Sun, 25 Jan 2015 21:03:55 GMT