Hummingbird photography without flash

Hummingbird photography without flash

For the ultimate success in stopping hummingbird wings, a multiple flash setup with speedlights set to 1/64 or 1/128 power is the way to go. In this scenario, it is the short flash that stops the wings because the duration is 1/12,000s or faster. The flashes (usually three to four) must be within a few feet of a subdued light area for success.

Pro Capture mode

Six images were drawn from a series of 25 shots. Note that in some images you can’t even tell the bird has wings, they move so fast.

Above is six frames from a series of 25 images with Pro Capture mode on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera. Pro Capture mode lets you shoot into the past. The camera defeated the images with a half press of the button. With my settings it constantly refreshes 25 images. When you press the shutter button fully, the camera is activated saves those images that were recorded and continues to record and store until you give up or you run the buffer, which I have yet to do.

This allows you to wait until you see the behavior you are looking for. You won’t be late with the recording because you are essentially saving images from the past! How many times have you been trained on a bird waiting for it to fly and use up your buffer? Or have you been watching and waiting and missing the signal that the bird is talking?

With Pro Capture you can record without using your camera buffer and save as soon as you see the behavior. I highly recommend using the back button focus to get the most out of this feature so you don’t trigger/change focus when you start recording.

The temporary solution

If you don’t have a multiple flash system to create images to freeze wings, fear not. You can still get great shots of those fast little critters. If possible, shoot in full sun to get as much light as possible. You can also increase your ISO, but then you start adding noise to the image. Noise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but many find it detracts from their photo.

1689109924 356 Hummingbird photography without flash | Theedgesm
Image straight from the camera. Notice that I’m exposing the right side of the histogram without blowing out the highlights. Olympus E-M1 Mark III camera with you M. Zukio Pro 40-150mm f/2.8 lens. MC-20 2.0x teleconverter gave a similar field of view to a 600mm full-frame f/5.6 lens. Settings: 1/250s, f/5.6, ISO 800, 600mm field of view.

You can shoot with a slower shutter speed and the wings almost stop at 1/250s. But the catch should happen when the wings are just changing direction. Since the wings beat 80 times per second, this happens often. I’ve found that a series of exposures in your camera’s fastest burst mode gives you a better chance of success at that shutter speed.

1689109924 543 Hummingbird photography without flash | Theedgesm
Processed file. Decreased exposure, increased vibrancy, sharpening and texture. Dodging and Burning has been completed to add a bit of depth and dimension. Adobe Photoshop is my post-production mistress!


Hummingbirds are creatures of habit. Study their behavior and patterns before shooting. If you have regular hummingbird visitors coming to a feeder, watch for a while. Each individual bird will tend to take the exact same path to the feeder. Stay in the same place before drinking. Return to the same perch after feeding. This makes it much easier to get more keepers…focus on the perch or hover zone at the feeder beforehand for best results.

Yours in creative photography, Bob