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05-27-2013, 02:04 PM   #1
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Trying for a sharp hummingbird

I've been what I would call an "advanced tourist" type photographer for most of my life, although I've always loved photography. Recently I needed a creative outlet so I took a course to heighten my knowlege and got a k-30 and a 70-200 tamron.

I've spent the day today very happily figuring out how to apply what I've been learning on the course, trying for a close up of a hummingbird. The bird is about the size of my two thumbs held together, so this is pushing the macro abilities of the lens. Alas, I can't seem to get a sharp shot. I was hoping that someone could suggest which direction to go to improve things.

This is the first time I've done this in the forums, hope this is all OK. I created an album of some samples: mvsjes2's Album: Learning sequence - but I can't seem to control the sequence of shots on the album. The captions are numbered from 01 - 07 so you can see what I was trying in that sequence.

I'm not sure if the lack of sharpness is:
a) my focus is off.
b) insufficient depth of field.
c) too slow a shutter speed.
d) pushing the lens beyond what it was practically designed for.
e) That I'm really more suited for bowling instead.

For a, I used live view and zoomed in to the tip of the bird feeder and very carefully manually focused on that. I didn't move the camera to 'recompose', just used the zoom feature to zero in on the bird feeder while leaving the camera in place. With the zoom and manual focus, it seems quite accurate to focus on a specific part of the picture.
For b, I was trying f2.8 for a long while, then stopped down to 4 and 4.5, which improved things, but still no joy. I figure if I have to go beyond that to get a sharp shot then there's something else wrong.
For c, I ranged from 1/125 - 1/640.
For d, Would I be better off with that Pentax 100mm macro I've always wanted?
For e, I'm lousy at sports, so I would really like to figure this out.

I am seriously interested in a real macro like the Pentax 100mm, so if that's what would help I'm all for it. But I don't want to blame the equipment if it's really just my technique.

Any help or advice greatly appreciated.

(I was going to post this in the critique section but that seemed more for when you have figured out a particular picture and wanted other's opinions, whereas this is more my technique is off and need help with that.)

05-27-2013, 02:20 PM   #2
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Going out on a limb here.

B and C?

A bright flash is high on my list.
05-27-2013, 03:04 PM   #3
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Thanks aoeu, I should have added I am taking these during the day under a shaded tree, and was hoping to avoid a flash if possible as I only have the built in flash right now. But if that's the concensus perhaps I should spring for an external if I want to keep pursuing this.
05-27-2013, 03:13 PM   #4
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K-20D + DA 55-300 AF.S

05-27-2013, 03:57 PM   #5
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Gorgeous Ken, thanks! Are these birds small like mine? Mine's more of a bug than a bird. Did you use a solar-flare flash? Not sure how you froze the wing in mid flight and have such a deep depth of field at the same time...
05-27-2013, 04:01 PM   #6
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I vote for C)
Setting the exposure bias lower/underexposing and recovering the correct brightness from raw could give you more room for higher shutter speed or lower iso.
Probably E) going bowling with Ken would help you too
05-27-2013, 04:46 PM - 1 Like   #7
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I would continue to practice. Set the camera on AFC and continuous shooting and hope that the odd one is in focus. Also, Catch in Focus is a good technique, but the Tamron 70-200 does not allow that. Here is one of my examples with the Sigma 180mm macro (cropped).

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05-27-2013, 06:57 PM - 1 Like   #8
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I did alot of tripod with a remote.

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05-27-2013, 08:36 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by mvsjes2 Quote
Gorgeous Ken, thanks! Are these birds small like mine? Mine's more of a bug than a bird. Did you use a solar-flare flash? Not sure how you froze the wing in mid flight and have such a deep depth of field at the same time...
Thanks for enjoying the pics Mvsjes2. The hummingbirds I shoot usually as big as my thumb, they come every day to enjoy the aloe vera flowers in my back yard, so when there are flowers then I have plenty of time to shoot them. Those pics in the above post I just shoot with available light (around 5 PM in the summer), with good light I was able to use high shutter speed though.
At first, when I saw them from inside, I grabbed the camera and walked out to shoot, as soon as I got out the back door, they flew off. Finally I decided to play a patience game with them...... I grabbed a patio chair and put about 2 meters away from the bunch of aloe vera flowers, then sat still on it and stayed still as a rock with the view finder glued on my eye. At last, they hadn't seen any movement of that weird looking rock (me), they came to the flowers to drink, so I just snapped as many shots as I wanted to. What I notice is they are very skittish with human's movement but not with sound, I was afraid that the shutter noise of the K-20D might scare them to fly away but they did not.

05-27-2013, 08:42 PM   #10
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I recently acquired the Tamron 70-200, and at 200mm f2.8 is quite soft. f5.6 is super sharp though. At 150mm, it is quite sharp at all apertures. I had to set the focus correction to +8 on mine. So much better now.

I think much of your blurriness is the motion of the birds. Get that shutter speed up! Another question, is your tripod stiff enough? If it's wobbling around, that's not going to help the situation.

Try shooting in TAv, set your shutter at 1/1000, f4, and let the iso float. The K-30 looks pretty good all the way up to 3200, passable at 6400, so don't worry too much.I tried this with pics of my dogs today, and really works a treat! (not as fast as humming birds, but still quite fast).

Last edited by Kozlok; 05-27-2013 at 08:49 PM.
05-28-2013, 08:26 AM   #11
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Ruby Throated Hummingbird, about the size of my thumb, around 2 1/2 inches long.

Lentar 135mm on a K 30, mounted on a tripod, pre focused at the middle of the feeder tube, fired with a remote. The camera was about 4 feet from the bird. I've been experimenting with this and have gotten some pretty decent shots. The 50mm works and gets great shots, but it's too close and they fly away from it when the camera clicks. Hummers are so fast I usually get them after they turn away. The 135 mm sits a little further away, they still flinch, but not as bad. I can sit about 10 feet away and they don't mind me too much, the 135 gets pretty sharp pictures at f5.6, and enough depth of field to work well. ISO is set at 200.

The Vivitar 200 mm works also, but the 135 usually gets a sharper picture. I'd love to be able to use the 50mm, it gets the sharpest of the bunch, but as I said above, they tend to not like the noise of the camera and turn away so I don't get many shots. So far the 135mm seems to do the best job. I also always try for good sunlight, so I can get decent shutter speed. So far I've been unable to stop the wings entirely, but I haven't tried higher ISO either.

This was cropped at 1600x1200 then resized to 1024x768. No sharpening, a little contrast increase.
05-28-2013, 08:28 AM   #12
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Wow, thanks everyone for your help! It has given me more things to try. This is a great place to learn! Wonderful pictures everyone!

Ken, is your exif data available? I would be interested to know the sutter speed/fstop/iso. I'm stunned that you can freeze the wings and still get such a deep depth of field!

Kozlok, Right now my camera is securly mounted on a ladder until my tripod arrives from my real home (living here temporarily). I eventually went with TAv exposures as I was progressing through the day, it's the first time I've used it and find it a great way to control exposure for things like this (I don't think my old *ist had that, else I just never used it). I just didn't want to push the iso too far, but will try that next.
05-28-2013, 06:49 PM   #13
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Hi Mvsjes2, I list all the parameters in order ISO, focal length, f stops, and shutter speed as 1/ for the top pic to 6/ as for the last one.

1/ ISO1250, 300mm, f/6.3, 1/4000"
2/ ISO1600, 300mm, f/6.3, 1/1600"
3/ ISO 320, 260mm, f/5.6, 1/3200"
4/ ISO1250, 300mm, f/6.3, 1/1600"
5/ ISO 500, 260mm, f/5.6, 1/3200"
6/ ISO1600, 300mm, f/6.3, 1/1250"

And this one with ISO 400, 260mm, f/5.6, 1/3200"
05-28-2013, 07:01 PM   #14
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I have been trying my hands at hummers too. It's difficult if there is not enough light because fast shutter speed is a must.

K-x + 55-300 handheld. 1/1000, ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600, 190 mm

05-28-2013, 07:10 PM   #15
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Looking at your shotsI would try the following as others may have mentioned:
For available light shooting, put the feeder where you will have better light so you can
Bump up shutter speed
Increase depth of field to where you lens is sharpest and whole bird will be in focus
Let the birds get used to you being close by sitting still near the feeder and minimize movement when shooting
Keep trying, you will get better at it

Otherwise you can also just wait til they are sitting still


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