For the first time in several weeks, I actually had some good weather for photography on my days off from work. Temps in the the 70s, no rain and some perfect overcast skies that created some perfect soft diffused light.
Somehow, I came up with the idea that I'd like to try and photograph hummingbirds. This is something that I'd never done, nor did I have any clue as to where I could go about doing this.
I posted a message in a couple different photography groups that I belong to. Within an hour I had received several replies suggesting various locations in my general area. One of them, Allaire State Park in Farmingdale, NJ is only about 40 minutes from where I live. I decided to give this spot a try.
Before leaving home, I did some research on photographing hummingbirds. The techniques suggested were pretty much the same as other birds with the key being a fast shutter speed.
I got to the park around 4:00pm and had no problem finding the garden. Here's a photo of the garden that I would be photographing. Here's photo of the garden that I'd be photographing, taken with my iPhone.
Hummingbird garden at Allaire State Park - Farmingdale, NJ
My setup would be my Canon R6 and my trusty Tamron 150-600mm
For settings, I started with aperture priority with an f/stop of f/6.3. This is the max aperture when the lens is exitended to a 600mm focal length. I chose to shoot in Auto ISO. With ISO set to Auto, the camera sets the ISO necessary to achieve a good exposure based upon the f/stop and shutter speed. I start, set a minimum shutter speed of 1/2000. My earlier research suggested using a shutter speed no less than 1/2000. I figured this would be a good place to start.
Given the overcast conditions, fast shutter speed and a relatively small aperture, my camera set an ISO of between 4000 and 5000.
I know what you are thinking... You're probably saying to yourself, 'How can he shoot at such a high ISO? The noise will be terrible!' My reply to this is, 'I don't worry about High ISO'. My camera does a good job with high ISO. Plus I can clean it up in post-processing'. More about this later.
I also shut my camera for high speed shutter which gives me 12 frames per second. I also have my camera set up for back button focusing. If you don't know what this is, do a google search on it. In my opinion, it's an absolute must for photographing birds and other wildlife.
So I pick a spot along the fence of the garden and start scanning for hummingbirds. Within a couple minutes, I saw my first one. I lifted my camera and before I had a chance to focus, it was gone. Not a big deal. I see a second one and the same thing happens. There and gone in an instant. This pattern repeated itself over and over.
I pause and try to figure out how to tackle this challenging subject. I spend the next 15 minutes just watching. What I observed is that the hummingbirds frequented the same spots over and over, often times in the same order.
Once I observed where the hummingbird was, I would focus my camera on the spot where I thought they would go next. I kept one eye on the view finder and one eye on the bird. As soon as I'd see the bird fly to the flower I was focusing on, I'd lock in my focus and start shooting.
Finally, I started to get some decent results! I ended up staying for about 2 hours. I took about 400 shots. About a quarter we're in sharp focus and I came out with about 10 that I was really happy with. I've selected a few to share below.
One other thing that I want to add. I tried several different methods of auto focus and didn't feel that one in particular rendered better results than the others. I tried single point, multi-point, horizontal zone and center zone. I kept the eye-detect on but don't think this really did anything for me.
My post processing workflow for these images is fairly straightforward. I use Lightroom Classic for my image repository and editing.
After importing the images into LR, I make basic adjustments to the overall exposure, tone and white balance. I also, set the Noise Reduction and Sharpening to zero. I'll take care of these in Photoshop.
Once basic adjustments are complete, I'll open the image in Photoshop. From within Photoshop, I'll run the image through Topaz DeNoise. This product elimates virtually all of the noise while maintaining a high level of sharpness. It is this product that permits me shoot at very high ISO with no concerns.
After DeNoise, I make a copy of the layer and run it through Topaz Sharpen. This product is equally as incredible and helps render the photo tack sharp. For the most part, I only want the bird to be sharp. I apply a black layer mask to the sharpened image and then using a soft white brush, I paint back in the bird on the layer mask.
I save the image which returns the image to Lightroom. The final step is to crop and I'm done!
I really enjoyed the experience and look forward to being able to get out and photograph them again in the very near future.
If you have any questions about my photo techniques of my post processing, you can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.