Tips and techniques for taking photos of hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
An adult male Ruby-throat sips nectar from bee balm in the author’s yard. Photo by William Jobes

The flowers

Myriad online sources list florals that hummingbirds find attractive. Your best bet is to research hummingbird-friendly plants for your state or region. In my garden, these three rule the kingdom:

  • The commonly named shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), a native of Mexico. Its flowers resemble a shrimp, thus the name. They come in a variety of colors. The hummingbirds love them all, not just the iconic red ones. Bright yellow flowers are also a hit.
  • Any color of the wide variety of fuchsia flowers. The family has 100 or more species, native to Central and South America, and most North American garden centers have profuse stocks for summertime planting. I’ve had success with flowers of red, purple, and orange.
  • Any color variety of bee balm (Monarda didyma) with its stunning flowers.

My garden also has swamp milkweed, butterfly bush, and a host of other brightly colored annuals that combine to create a miniature tropical paradise. Hummingbirds surely find it welcoming and comforting as they while away the summer so far from home.

The photo gear

Most any DSLR camera, from consumer grade to top pro hardware, will work. You don’t have to break the bank to get outstanding hummingbird pictures. As long as the camera body has high-shutter-speed capability and a fairly robust autofocus, the stage for success is set. A medium telephoto lens in the 150mm to 300mm range is a must; the mammoth 500mm, 600mm, and 800mm lenses are optional. I’ve taken quality photos with modestly priced glass that can compete nicely with images I’ve captured with lenses far more expensive. My camera bodies include a Nikon D500, a Nikon D4, and a Sony a6000 mirrorless. I have also taken video with a GoPro on a stake within inches of the flowers.

Nikon – D500 DSLR Camera (Body Only) – Black

Sony – Alpha A6000 Mirrorless Camera (Body Only) – Black

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William Jobes

William Jobes

William Jobes is a print and broadcast journalist from Langhorne, Pennsylvania, whose experience includes news and sports photojournalism, as well as reporting and editing on staff at several major daily newspapers. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Star, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and USA Today, among others.  He is the recipient of numerous journalism and photography awards and honors, including several Emmys. He has written several articles for BirdWatching, including Hotspots Near You in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

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