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How I Photograph Hummingbirds


“YOU took these?!”

Believe me, it was more a case of my friends being admitted into trauma care.  You know, in total shock as if their bodies had shut down after a major trauma when they realized these hummingbird pictures were taken by little ole old “shaky hand” me.

Well, after being discharged from trauma care, several of my friends asked, “Hey, did you really take these?”, still not believing I took them. “Okaay, Koj, then how did you take these hummingbird pictures?”

Well, I really didn’t have specific answers for them but I fumbled a couple up.

I guess it’s time to cough it up… literally.


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For me, I had never thought about photographing hummingbirds before this last February.  Yes, I had never taken photos of hummingbirds in my short long life.  Besides, there just weren’t many hummingbirds buzzing around my yard for me to get interested.

Well, my good next door neighbors had aloe plants growing very healthily alongside the sidewalk and driveway.  Starting in February, I noticed a couple of the hummingbirds feasting on the nectar on my neighbor’s aloe cactus’ flowers.  I was bored so I thought, “Why not?!”

As I begun this escapade, there was a lot of patient waiting, sitting in the sun in a beat up brown resin lawn chair with camera in hand waiting for those little friends to buzz by.  Cigar was going, too.  Indeed, some of my neighbors down the block must’ve been wondering, “What is that crackpot, stogie-smoking old Japanese man doing sitting out there in the sun on his driveway?!”

I only had my Canon 100mm macro lens to shoot with.  While I did snap a couple of shots with the 100mm, the first attempts photographically were dismal.  I wasn’t close enough to those little suckers most of all with the 100mm lens.  The hummers were like Tinkerbell against a Sequoia forest… sans the cute little green tights.

My first attempts with a 100mm macro lens. Too far away and couldn’t get close enough.

Well, my other good neighbor across the street saw me shooting and I said I could use a longer lens.  Bingo.  He was a Canon user and had a lot more equipment than me!  He had an earlier model 200mm f/2.8 which he would lend me in exchange for a few stogies.  He was a cigar lover, too!  What a deal!

The results began to improve over the next few days.  Each opportunity helped fine tune the procedures.  There were a lot of bumps along the way.

  • First of all, the tiny buggers moved faster than my eyeballs.
  • Second, even if I were lucky enough to frame one in my viewfinder, they would stay in that certain spot for only a split second; a lot of times, I pressed the shutter when the bird was no longer there. That was because it took light years for my brain’s commands to jump through my well frayed synapses.
  • Third, my hands do shake and the lens didn’t have image stabilization, leading to fuzzy shots
  • Fourth, you had to be precise in targeting the focusing point for the auto-focus.  If the focus point was a wing, the entire bird would be out of focus.  That is because the wing is closer to the camera’s focal plane and there wasn’t enough depth of field to keep the hummer’s body beyond the wing in focus.
  • Fifth, bright sunlight made for desirable higher shutter speeds but it also resulted in harsh lighting.
  • Sixth and most importantly, my stogie kept going out.

Some of the results during and after the trial period were as follows:


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This was shot when the sun was overhead – not the best lighting condition. See procedural notes below.




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The Procedure

But in all seriousness, this is what I do when trying to shoot hummers:

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Essential equipment. A 54 ring maduro cigar.
  1. Select at least a 54 ring maduro cigar and light.  The hummers appear to like Dominican long fillers with a spicy ligero wrapper the most.  The wonderful smelling smoke was better than the sweetest nectar for the hummers… Trust me.  They love it.
  2. Set yourself within a half-foot of the minimum focusing distance for your lens from a choice bunch of flowers at that distance.  Seat yourself in a comfortable chair, ensuring the flowers you selected are at eye level.  (Note: I do not use a monopod or tripod.)  In my case, I was just about five feet away.  Its purpose is to fill the frame as much as possible with the hummingbird.
  3. Set your metering mode to aperture priority then your f-stop to wide open.  In the case of my lenses, it was f/2.8.  While the depth of field is incredibly tight, it allows for very good bokeh (i.e., the background will be thrown out of focus).
  4. Slightly depress your shutter button to check your shutter speed at f/2.8.  Adjust your ISO to a higher number until you see at least 1/2000th of a second.   Higher is better but no more than 1/5000th unless you want total stop action.  I like a little bit of wing blur to give the impression of action.  Besides, it looks more natural.  (You will of course get noise at the higher ISO but that can be edited down during processing.)
  5. Set your shutter mode to multi-exposure.  Ensure mirror lock is off.  (Note: if your camera has an adjustment for knocking down highlights – comes from glare off shiny parts of the flowers – select it.  It is “D+” on my Canon.)
  6. For the auto focus, I use a single point focus and do my best to put that focus point on the BODY (not the wings) of the hummer.  The eyes/throat are the best targets but with my aging reflexes, it was more miss than hit but the results were much, much better.  Using a broader focusing zone or AI option will make the camera attempt to focus on the moving wings or a more prominent flower petal.  With a narrow depth of field, the bird itself then will likely not be in focus.
  7. Sit.  Puff on the cigar to attract the little buggers.  Patience is the key.  As there are only a few hummers in my area, I sometimes sat for 90 minutes before one would come by.  Even then, it may not have been in my pre-selected focus area.

As for WHEN to shoot…  A bright overcast day was the best for me but now that it is summer, this is unlikely.  While you CAN, I would not recommend shooting when the sun is above you.  I would suggest early morning or late evening with the sun is lower in the sky.  This will cut down on harsh shadows and lighting.

Good luck!

ps For stunning collections of hummingbird photos, please see Cindy Knoke’s blog here!

(NOTE: True pros use an intricate flash setup with remote release and an artificial background.  Not only do I not have multiple flash units, I feel shooting with a naturally occurring background more pleasing.)

My “Date” Last Night

A young at heart couple…and childhood friends.

I had a date last night…and she was a varsity high school cheerleader, no less.  Any man’s dream as they say.

It was the most wonderful evening for me in close to two decades.


Oh, her name is Mari Jo and very happily married.  Darn.  Double darn.  Her loving Husband was kind enough to “lend” her to me for our 40th high school reunion.  They both bought me my ticket to make sure I’d go to the reunion.  How embarrassing for a man of old ways.

Mari Jo and I have been friends since six or seven years of age – from around (ahem) 1960 or so.  We went to a great elementary school in the heart of East Los Angeles called 4th Street Elementary.  It still stands.  Brick auditorium, too.

She had a touch of freckles, blond hair with the slightest of curls and an infectious smile back then.  More than 50 years later, she still does.  Priceless.

True childhood friends.  The best.  No walls.  No mask.  Out in the open.


Nearly all of us were pretty much in the same boat.  Our families were trying to make ends meet.  Since we knew no other lifestyle, we all looked upon each other for support.  I see this in hindsight now.

Mari Jo is at the left on the third row. Me? Guess.

It seems as if mom stopped by for this “May Day” dance perhaps in 1966.  Mari Jo can be seen being twirled around by another childhood friend Ralph – he’s the tallest one on the left.

Tall one on the left is Ralph. The cute blond girl he is twirling around is Mari Jo. The “Asian” in the middle… Well…


We were all blessed to have stayed together through what we called junior high school back then.  That school, too, is still standing.  Junior high school would end up giving Mari Jo a lot of memories – both painful and happy.  One of her proudest moments…  I think she looks fabulous, don’t you?

Mari Jo was a “Tower Queen Dance” princess in 1969.

Mari Jo was cheerleading even in junior high.  She is at the far right.

You know which one is Mari Jo by now…off to the right.


In high school, our friendship continued.  Mari Jo was a popular young lady.  She was funny, outgoing and cared about others…and she was one of our varsity cheerleaders.  Odd that bubbly Mari Jo would be one.  Are you kidding me?

She is off to the far right – it is from a frame from one of my surviving negatives from back then.

Not a very good shot (I would crop later) but there’s Mari Jo on the far right cheering on our football team.

Did I mention she was a ham, too?  She was one of my favorite candid photography subjects.  I was apparently known as the guy who always had a camera hanging from my shoulder.  While sports photography was where I exceled (with basic equipment), many of my photos ended up in the school newspaper or the yearbook.  I had taken tens of thousands of photos, then developed the negatives at the house then printed them.  And the friends I gave the prints to were happy… and that made me happy.  The plumbing was never the same after all the processing and printing.  That didn’t make my parents happy, I’m sure.

I treasured the negatives for decades…but about six years ago, my littlest firecracker Brooke decided to let the air out of an IMMENSE three tier inflatable pool full of water…  but the darn wife had put the IMMENSE pool IN the garage (where my CAR should have been) so that the kids would not get dark from the sun.  Why have an IMMENSE three tier pool bigger than Lake Erie if you don’t want your kids to get dark??

When my angelic Brooke pulled the plugs, the garage flooded – and all but one set of the high school negatives were ruined.  The prints from those precious days that survived were also gone…including my most favorite one which was a double-exposure of Mari Jo immediately after losing the football league championship game in the final seconds.

A devasted Mari Jo – and school – sobbed after losing in the final seconds.  Scanned from our yearbook.  My most favorite photo of all.


I last saw Mari Jo later that year – 1972 – after graduation.  She was moving to Las Vegas to get married.

While we had written a letter or two soon thereafter, for the next 37 years, I oft thought of Mari Jo (and of two other childhood friends, “Fritos” and Ralph)…  What happened to her?  Was she happy?  I was so angry at myself for failing to stay in touch…

Then…  I came across a lead.  I sent off another blind email like I did for my dad’s high school yearbook; I guess that’s my MO…  and she replied!  OMFG.


We learned of each other’s paths since parting.  But most of all, she was HAPPY.  That was all that mattered to me.  She is now happily married with two great kids…and a granddaughter!

But good ol’ Mari Jo…  She knows of my life’s recent events and she – with her good husband’s encouragement – came to my rescue last night.  If I can sum it up as best I can, she said basically you plan for life – but what happens is life.  Life is but ambiguity and dwelling does no good… to move on.

Before we met, I kidded her my hands were sweaty and that I was nervous…  like a certain escort she had one night when she was young.  She called me poop head.  Loved that.  But I was nervous.

She snuck up on me and surprised the dickens out of me… and man, it was worth it.  She looked stunning – gorgeous if I may say – but it was Mari Jo.  That same infectious smile.  From 4th Street School.  In East LA.


Speaking personally, I had the most grandest of times…  It started with Mari Jo screaming – just a tad.  After picking her up from her hotel, I did a burn out in my car.  It was just a little scream, Husband.  Really.  Well, it was more a case of Mari Jo sinking her manicures into the ceiling.

Needless to say, she was the most ravishing one there… and she was my date!  Thank you, Husband!

I felt so good, I did the cha-cha with her…  Well, kinda.  I had forgotten how to… but the song was “Suavecito”.  An East LA favorite.  My legs hurt this morning.

I won’t go into the reasons but the varsity cheerleaders and I overall had a special relationship – and four of the eight were there!

Three of the four cheerleaders there at the reunion.

Aren’t I a lucky old fart?


Thanks for rooting for me, Mari Jo.  You blew in fresh air and helped rekindle a smothered flame.

An old flame at that.

Love ya.