• John Gerlach

Big Telephoto Lenses for Hummingbirds?


Calliope Hummingbird Stretching

While teaching my popular hummingbird photography workshops at the spectacular Bull River Ranch in British Columbia, I noticed a small group of prickly bushes where some hummers liked to perch on the upper twigs. I put two hummingbird feeders there to keep them interested in the bushes, and checked it later in the day when there was little wind. Sure enough, a few more hummingbirds perched on the twigs where they are clearly visible from most angles.

Though, the upper twigs are only about nine feet high, the bushes have a diameter of about 20 feet, so I had to compose the tiny calliope hummingbird I was after with a fairly long lens to make it big in the image. After all, the calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird in North America - perhaps the size of a golf ball. To make a large image of the tiny bird from a dozen feet away, I had to use plenty of lens power. I selected my new Canon 600mm f/4 III lens to go on my Canon 1DX Mark II camera. As that still was not enough magnification, I added a 25mm extension tube to the camera, then the 1.4x tele converter, and finally attached all that to the rear end of the Canon 600mm lens that is already supported by a Wimberley gimbal tripod head. Essentially, I have a high-quality close-focusing 840mm lens.

Checking for intruders overhead

I slowly approached the bush and stopped in the area where the perched hummingbird had a nice out-of-focus background of the forested mountain behind it. I avoided the white sky as that would be unappealing and a bright distraction as the day was cloudy. Here I used back-button focusing and selected a single AF point in the viewfinder that coincided with the hummingbird's face when I had the composition I wanted. Should I need to move the AF point, I use a button on the camera rear to select another active AF point.

While I normally turn off image-stabilization when shooting on a tripod, I don't do that when I am holding the tripod-mounted camera as some vibrations are created by touching the camera. Since I was not photographing movement, I switched the image-stabilization from Mode 2 or Mode 1. Mode 1 stabilizes the subject in all directions. Mode 2 only stabilizes the subject in the direction opposite the travel of the subject.

Exercising the wings

Sometimes the breeze blew a little, so I tried to shoot only when the bird is still. Of course, I was not always successful, but by shooting many images, at times I still got a really sharp one - and that is all I needed.

Exposure is easy. I used auto ISO and set the exposure compensation to a positive value to produce the first blinkies in the bird. As the clouds moved, the ambient light steadily became brighter, and then darker. Auto ISO is a super exposure metering mode for changing light.

How is this for a perch that fits my feet?

The hummingbird paid no attention to me as long as I did not move quickly. It is such a pleasure to spend time with this tiny, but gorgeous bird. After I showed my group participants what I did that afternoon - they were all using the multiple-flash stations I had set up - several were lined up the next morning photographing this bird. Though, it was their last morning, all were sorry to leave. What a fabulous week. Many shot more than 20,000 hummingbirds images during their stay with me. The flash stations were super hot at times, especially when it is cold and cloudy. Some more than 3,000 shots are taken in 90 minutes! Now that will tucker a camera out! www.gerlachnaturephoto.com

This is "adorable overload"

Sometimes I just want the highest perch in the bush!


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