A 4×5 camera and a Hummingbird

What does a 4×5 large format camera and a Hummingbird have in common? both are difficult to photograph.

So the self challenge was to use my 4×5 Large Format studio camera to photograph one of my fave subjects . . Hummingbirds.  I will step through a few of the challenges and you will probably agree with most of my friends on two counts 1) that’s just crazy (meaning me !!! MMWAAAHAHAHAhahaha) and 2) why? why use a 4×5 instead of the nice shiny DSLR that I always use! OK . . . here it comes, are you ready for it!

Because, yup just “because” I wanna try it, and secondly, to say I did it,  and . . . and . . . let you know at the end of the article some simple FAQ’s on photographing one of my fave birds of all times! The itty – bitty . . . tiny, aerobatic speed demon of flight . . . the Hummingbird.   It all really started because a few of the people in the photo club I attend complain about how hard it is to photograph birds.  So I thought to myself how can I relay to them that it is not that hard at all.  There you have it, my personal challenge, trust me if you really think about it, it was a piece of cake to do this, much like any type of photography. Here is a photo with text showing the setup and where I photograph most of my hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds & 4×5 Camera


There’s the setup, all the paraphernalia a Digital 4×5 junky owns.  I have added a diopter to the 500mm lens, this is to allow close focusing without a ton of bellows draw.  I still had to significantly crop the image after capturing it . . I will have to try my Nikkor-T 270mm f/6.3 ED Macro Large Format lens. The biggest issue here is working distance from the camera as the shooting position is rather limited unless I set up a blind outside (a blind is do-able but wasn’t part of the challenge).

Simple FAQ’s for photographing hummingbirds in available light. (1) use a feeder, (2) relax, you need to observe your subject(s) get to know their behavior, Hummingbirds are creatures of habit, (3) set your feeder up about 6 to 9 feet away from your chair and tripod, (4) focus about 1 to 2 bird lengths away from the feeder port, this is where your bird will stop before feeding and will fall back to just before departing at subsonic speeds, (5) if you have a multi-port feed put a piece of masking tape over the ones opposite you and facing you, leave the left and right ones open so the bird is forced to come in and feed offering you a chance to photograph them, (6) Did I mention you should turn off AF, AE, try setting your camera to manual or Shutter priority set the speed to 1/500th sec and let the camera do the aperture and when you comfy switch to Aperture mode and shoot wide open then review and pick the Aperture and Shutter speed that work well and set that up in Manual mode. Now that your dialed in, set your focus on your spot and make a few great shots . . . wait for the bird to pause momentarily and fire the shutter,  (7) Be patient . . let the bird feed a few times before you take your shot, and please save your shutter don’t machine gun it like some rookie WWII tail gunner . . set your camera to lower rate and learn to make 2 – 3 shot sequences . . . you’ll be getting many more keepers, (8) did I mention relax, set yourself up a table with a beverage and lean back with your tripod close, Some like using a mono-pod which works great with a 300mm or zoom lens, you’ll also find the birds get used to you and the sounds of the cameras shutter and soon will ignore you, move slow, shoot in manual, or at least turn off AF as that will drive you nuts until you understand it and then can limit the lens/camera AF shoot at moderate apertures say f/5.6 ~ f/8 and keep your backgrounds far away so they blur out. keep the feeder eye level or just above your seated position. Try those helpful FAQ’s and soon with a bit of practice you can be making some great wall hangers. You can do this all with entry level equipment, heck even a Point & Shoot . . . or a 4×5 Large Format camera . . Well that’s it for now , thanks for reading, you don’t need a 4×5 but do have fun, go make some fine photo’s and if this helped and you make that great photo drop an note.

I’m out and about . .  Tim


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