I spent some time with Carl Ackerman (and the NutHouse – click here to find out more) this week recording a mini-course on setting up a backyard bird feeder area (this mini course will also come out along with my official Bird Photography course in September). Carl had an amazing setup in his yard and I learned so much from talking with him.

Anyway, he also has been experimenting with off-camera flash to photograph hummingbirds and I managed to snap a few photos. Off camera flash for this is interesting as it’s really the only way to absolutely freeze the hummingbird wings and get them razor sharp.

Sure, you can freeze the wings at high shutter speeds too, but you often sacrifice a lot on ISO and you don’t get that razor sharp look that you get with off camera flash. For me, I don’t really have a preference – I like both natural light hummingbird photos and flash. I don’t mind a little motion blur in the wings, but at the same time I also love the separation and sharpness you can get with flash. That said, it’s A LOT of work (and costly) to setup off camera flash, so the lazy person in me may prefer the natural light ones ?

Anyway, another hot topic with hummingbirds is wing position. Some like wing position forward and some light wing position back. I like ’em both personally and the overall impact of the photo is more of what I look for. Here are two photos taken relatively close to each other so you can see what I’m referring to.

Sony Alpha 1 with the 200-600mm Lens
Sony Alpha 1 with the 200-600mm Lens

What Do You Prefer?

So the question is, which one do you like? Remember, regardless of what some one told you at your camera club or you read online, there is no “rule” to this – only preference. So which one do you prefer? (leave an answer in the comments).

Gear, Settings, and Post Processing

I used my Sony Alpha 1 with the 200-600m lens. I had my camera set to AF-S, using the Center Point Focus area. Since I don’t personally use Back Button Focus for birds and wildlife, I simply focussed on the flower and then recomposed. I turned the Auto Focus switch on my lens to Manual so it didn’t refocus when I pressed the shutter.

I was on Manual Exposure mode at f/13, ISO 100, and 1/200th sec. Since I was at f/13, I didn’t worry too much if the bird wasn’t on the exact focal plane as I had focussed the flower. Close enough here would definitely have been close enough since I was stopped down to f/13.

Post processing was done in Lightroom for exposure, cropping, color and toning corrections. Then I jumped to Photoshop to replace the eye. The eye had 3 catchlights in it which is a no-no. Sure you could clone them out easily enough but I had some natural light shots of the same bird so I just replaced it as I liked them better. Then I added some bokeh to the background since Carl had a piece of green paper as the background. Finally, I moved to Topaz Sharpen AI for some a little bit of sharpening even though the photo didn’t need it – it was razor sharp right out of the camera. (more on Topaz here)

As always my editing is covered in my Wildlife Editing Secrets Course. Also, you can find links to all of my gear, computers, hard drives, etc… over on the Gear page which can be clicked on in the top menu (or just click here). And it’s always appreciated if you use the links on that page (even if you’re not purchasing that specific item) when buying anything. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it’ll help me out a bit 🙂


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