Tag Archives: lighting

Multiple Flash Hummingbird Photography


Capturing the inflight antics of hummingbirds, like this Black-chinned female,  poses a number of challenges. We have to think about getting them where we want them to be, to be in focus, to have a good exposure, and to be sharp with wing feathers rendered in fine detail.

With today’s digital cameras, automatic technology makes some of this possible. But to get truly refined in-flight images of these little jewels, requires a bit more than camera and high shutter speeds alone. So multiple off-camera, electronic flashes is the only way to go.

To get the flying hummer where we want it, requires placing a feeder with one feeding port in the shade. Shade is important because we need the high speed capability of the off-camera flashes to work for us to stop the motion and wing beat of the hummers. If the set is placed in the sun, most flashes don’t have the power at high speed to compete with the sun for proper exposure.

A diagram of my most frequent set-up is below:

Hummingbird Photo Set-up

Specifications include: 


    Medium Telephoto Lens 70-200 mm

    Manual Shooting Mode

    Manual Focus – Focus on feeder tube-

    ISO 800–    (Adjust to achieve good shade exposure)

    Shutter speed 1/250 sec   (Or maximum flash sync speed for your camera)

    Aperture F11-   (Depending on adequate exposure in the shade)


    Three:    2 on Bird –about 2 feet in front of bird

                    1 on Background (Optional) — about 3 feet from background

    Set at 45 degrees to bird

    Zoom at 35mm

    Flash Power- Manual 1/64 (Flash duration: 1/35,000 sec)

    Trigger: Wired, Radio or Ettl / iTTl


    Out-of-focus photo of vegetation printed on matte paper about 30×40 inches

    Mounted print on foam core board

    Positioned on easel or stand about 3 feet behind bird (must remain in the shade)


    Tweak flash-to-subject distance (preferred) or

    Flash power in Manual Mode. (This changes flash duration)

Here is a photo of the actual set-up:


The real key to this method is to let the electronic flash do the work for you. They are designed to produce crisp, daylight-white light, and at a very fast flash duration. Today’s Speedlights can produce a flash duration as short as 1/40,000 second.

But that speed is not to be achieved at full power. That full-power flash duration may be as long as 1/900 second, much longer. The short flash duration therefore, comes at a trade-off of output light intensity (or exposure, if you wish). Therefore we must be in the shade to overpower the sun. Two flashes on the bird provides additional exposure for increased apertures and better Depth of Field. Place the flashes on stands and synchronize them with the camera using cables, radios or IR triggers or the flash eTTL / iTTl technology. The flash sync does not need to be TTL as everything is in manual mode. The light intensity at the bird may be controlled by simply changing the flash-to-subject distance.

Once the feeder is set up and hummingbirds are using it frequently, it’s time to bring in the other equipment, including camera, flashes on their stands, and the background. It may take a few minutes for the birds to become settled down with all this around, but my experience has showed it is not very long.

When feeder, camera and background are in place, the camera needs to be focused on the feeder port in manual focus mode. The aperture will provide sufficient Depth of Field to assure the bird is sharply focused. As things are moving around, especially in a breeze, auto-focus tends to continuously hunt for a target. The picture you are trying to achieve, depending on lens focal length is like the one below. As the hummer sips, it will back away and then return to the feeder. When it backs away is the opportune moment to shoot.


Finally, the last thing to do is process the image. I shoot in RAW, so I can achieve excellent white balance and tone values in blacks, whites, shadows, highlights and mid-tones. Adobe Camera Raw is the perfect solution for the processing. Other software packages are available including, Lightroom, and On1. After processing, a final crop will yield excellent compositions.


Later, as your success rate increases, the set may be fine-tuned by the addition of a couple of strategically-placed flowers and greenery to hide the feeder and to provide a framing device for the composition. In addition, the hummers may enjoy actually feeding from several species of tubular flowers with a bit of sugar-water mix in the flower throats. Watch the vegetation the hummers actually use and select some blossoms and greenery for a natural set-up. Then get your finger on the trigger and enjoy!

Copyright © 2017 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.








Nature & Macro in the Texas Hill Country

Join me at Mo Ranch in the very heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day nature and macro photography workshop geared to shooting in field settings and indoors. Dates are Friday-Sunday, September 18-20, 2015.

This workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your photographic abilities with new found skills, techniques and proficiency. Two nights lodging and six meals provided.

GalliardiaMoth-1533-Sm TX Bluebonnet-3560-Sm

The historic, 500 acre Mo Ranch is located in a beautiful setting on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River. Here, habitats include: aquatic, riparian areas, grasslands, oak-juniper woodlands, and limestone hills. We will make use of all of them.

DA01-bloflin0312   MacroSetUp-4352-Sm

The workshop will feature classroom instruction, hands-on learning, and computer demonstrations  with native flora and fauna of the area. A computer lab is available for all participants for processing images. The workshop will cover many subjects including discussions on:

•    Equipment for getting close   •    Wide Angle Close-Ups
•    Backgrounds   •    Tools to make macro work easier
•    Lighting with Flash & High Speed Flash
•    High Key and White Box
     •    Macro Panorama
•    Extreme Macro   •    Focus Stacking

For more information, visit my website: Nature-Macro Workshop 
Or, E-mail me direct: bkloflin@austin.rr.com  .

Copyright © 2015 Brian K Loflin. All rights reserved. 

Achieving correct exposure

I have four friends who own professional photography labs. They are all unanimous in stating the single greatest problem experienced in their labs is poor exposure. And of course, they are expected to fix this basic photographer’s error.

So I wanted to take a moment to review exposure and what to look for in good exposure.

As we understand, good exposure holds detail in the darker or shadow end of the scale and in the lightest or highlight end of the scale as well. What this achieves is a well-balanced image without plugged shadows and blown-out highlights.

We must remember two things. First, exposure is dependent upon light intensity, the reflectance of the subject and to a certain degree, the color of the subject. And secondly, exposure measurement systems, whether hand held meters or those in the camera, attempt to make the average of any scene mid-tone.

So, the perfect solution is to measure a mid-tone photographic gray card in the light of our scene. Theory is that if mid-tone gray is accurate, all other tones will fall into their appropriate place on our histogram. Perfect! But in practical applications, we cannot always add a gray card in our scene and fiddle with exposure. Our flea will have flown and be long gone by that time!

So now what? First let’s be sure our camera is exposing properly. I am surprised that of my students, most of their cameras (75%)  do not expose accurately.

To find out where your camera exposes, shoot a photographic standard gray card in even light. Fill the frame with the card. Review the histogram. It should have a single spike directly in the middle of the tone range. If not, the camera over- or under-exposes by a certain degree. Adjust the exposure compensation until the spike is centered. This is your default error. Use that compensation in your subsequent photography and you will be more accurate.

The image below is a well-exposed gray card and its histogram. You can see the single spike in the center of the tone range. This is ideal.

Let’s look at a more difficult pair of images.

In the top image below, a common facial tissue is photographed with diffused lighting using my camera’s exposure error default. (Plus 2/3 F stop.) And knowing the tissue is lighter than mid tone in reflectance, I also opened up another 2/3 stop. This was done to place the values of the tissue correctly in the highlight side of the histogram. (Not a mid-tone gray tissue.)

Then I added the stink bug, a dark gray insect with lots of detail. With the previous corrections, this insect and the tissue on the background photographed with appropriate tone values for all components of the image.

Nikon D2Xs, Micro Nikkor 200 mm F 4.0 macro lens. SB-800 with diffuser panel.

Now the key is to standardize your own system. Know where your camera exposes. Make appropriate corrections to this built-in error. Use the default corrections when you shoot and be aware of the reflectance of the subject, making appropriate adjustments where required. All cameras and metering systems are different. And remember that metering modes, like 3D-Matrix or Evaluative, meter differently than spot or center weighted.

© Brian Loflin 2011. All rights reserved.