I want to tackle some butterfly / hummingbird photography this spring and summer. We live in the woods, with very little open yard. However, there's a small clearing I want to use; my plan is to hang feeders, plant bright flowers, etc.
The problem is that this is largely shaded. So I think natural light photography is out of the question. Even during the strongest afternoon sun, my typical settings for this area would be something like ISO 100, F/2.8, 1/30 second.
So, I was planning on setting up off-camera flashes in key areas.
Since I doubt that I'll be able to get very close to especially the hummingbirds, I'll have to use a lens with some reach. I'm not even sure that my 70-200/2.8 will have enough reach. I'm wondering about a Bigma.
Thankfully, I left my SB-910 and SB-700 alone in my studio for a week, and when I checked, the herd had grown to include 2 SB-800s, and 2 SB-900s. That gives me 6 off-camera flashes with which to work.
Now, for the questions I know to ask:
Can I use CLS for this project with a 500mm lens? Or will I have to set everything manually? Can I even use the flashes with this much reach, or am I hopelessly wandering down a rabbit hole?
I don't know if CLS will even work given the distances and lighting involved, honestly. If I have to go with PocketWizards, so be it.
I don't have any softboxes, etc at this time. I was thinking of purchasing a some Fong diffusers and powersnoots. Will these be adequate for such a project, or should I consider some other tools?
In the spirit of being a newbie, what am I missing? How would you approach this project?
#1. "RE: Outdoor Hummingbird/Butterfly "Studio"" In response to Reply # 0
Wow! SB910 and SB700 produce SB900s and SB800s? I must be missing something! My initial breeding pair of SB800s produced only more SB800s, twelve in total, probably because the SB900/SB910 models had not yet appeared on the scene. I will have to try again!
While I haven't tried photographing hummers yet, we do maintain a feeder and the little birds will feed with us standing fairly close to the feeder, within eight to ten feet or so. A simple test with your 70-200 mm lens at 200 mm will tell you how close you must be to fill the frame with a bird. If 200 mm is not enough, you may want to try a Teleconverter (1.4, 1.7, 2.0) before investing in a longer lens.
I have successfully triggered remote SB800s at sixty feet or so at night during many of my law enforcement photo sessions. As long as you maintain good line of sight between remotes and the on-camera master/commander, it may work for you in your shaded area.
I would try CLS before investing in Pocket Wizards. You can fashion snoots for your SB800/900 remotes from aluminum foil, black background paper, etc. and attach them with rubber bands. Experiment with these at different lengths, once you find out how close you can place the remote speedlights to the feeder. Shorter snoot equals broader beam, while longer snoot equals tighter beam. I use Cinefoil for speedlight snoots, which is a heavy aluminum foil that is matte black on both sides. It comes in rolls 24 inches wide by 25 feet long, and costs about $30 US. Experiment also with the zoom setting on the remote units.
With a little testing, you can likely work out the configuration details and then wait for the hummers. I don't know what your background is behind the feeder, but you may want to consider placing a piece of black foam core behind it to isolate the birds from it. If it is far enough behind the focal plane, it will go to total black.
Thanks for dropping in. I look forward to seeing some of your images.
You may want post this question in the Nikonian Wildlife forum, as there are several excellent hummer photographers there.
Hope this helps a bit.
HBB in Phoenix, Arizona Nikonian Team Member
Photography is a journey with no conceivable destination.
#2. "RE: Outdoor Hummingbird/Butterfly "Studio"" In response to Reply # 1
60 feet would be plenty of distance, so hopefully CLS will work. I'm hoping I can setup within 15-20 feet of the feeder / flower display.
Thanks much for the tip on the Cinefoil.
The clearing I'm working with is pretty much a C-shape, placed in landscape mode so that the opening and background are on the longer axis. The natural backdrop will be thick brush and trees, but I can easily add a black backdrop for better contrast - another great idea.
I do have the latest 2x teleconverter, and in my initial testing it seems to produce good results with the 70-200, so I'll give that a try if I need some additional reach.
#3. "RE: Outdoor Hummingbird/Butterfly "Studio"" In response to Reply # 0
Bob has many good points & recommendations in his response! I have taken hummer photographs with multiple flash units off & on for years dating back to that 4-letter word, FILM! LOL Spent a fortune too getting decent hummer shots.
Don't rule out the possibility of shooting remotely. The last few years my hummers haven't cooperated as they have picked elsewhere as a primary food source and come to our feeders too irregularly to try getting some shots so I've instead used my SU-800 & 3, SB-800s to capture birds in flight going to our regular bird feeders.
I just use a Sigma 150mm APO macro lens and prefocus manually at a spot close to the feeder. I modified an aftermarket wired flash so that I can sit up to 45ft away or so. Hummers are not shy and lots of backyard birds aren't either once they get used to you. I usually sit about 10 feet away.
I just bought a D5100 and have also bought 3-4 new remote options so that I don't have to go wired anymore and will try them out this spring.
Here is an image using my equipment & technique:
FYI, I've also done lots of butterfly photography. I even raised several varieties to get specimens with flawless wings. I can offer lots of advice here if you are interested. Not bragging, just offering help!
#4. "RE: Outdoor Hummingbird/Butterfly "Studio"" In response to Reply # 0 Mon 28-Jan-13 06:11 PM by RABaker
I occasionally shoot hummingbirds in our backyard and normally set up about 8 to 10 feet from the feeders. The hummers don't seem to mind my presence as long as I don't move around too much. I usually use a 300mm lens on a DX camera and get what I consider good framing - not quite frame-filling but near enough. I have shot both natural light and flash. When using flash, be sure to disable any pre-flash feature. The hummers are fast enough to move nearly out of the frame between the pre-flash and the main flash. Once they realize that the flash won't hurt them they tend to settle down a bit - they still move, but not as far. The direction of the light will have a significant impact on the colors that show up. When the light is just right you will get bright, vibrant colors from certain parts of their feathers. When the light is not quite right you can get very muted colors. Unfortunately, I have not done this often enough to remember what lighting worked for me and what didn't.
#6. "RE: Outdoor Hummingbird/Butterfly "Studio"" In response to Reply # 0
With a 70-200 and a 2x converter you would need to be within 10-15 ft for a decent sized shot of a small bird so your talking of using a hide or a blind. It would also be necessary to raise the ISO for shots of small birds like robins. I have produced many successful shots at a speed of 1/60th but things have to be timed when the bird is inactive. Humming birds well I've never seen one here in Lincolnshire but I would imagine their bodies are still at times whilst feeding but their wings are going like hell! Depends what results your after. With a long lens like the Bigma a lot of people use flash extenders in poor light, perhaps that may be worth a look? Used a Bigma for years with a 1.4 converter but personally I set up somewhere that gives me the conditions I want using a blind. Flash I found disturbed the wildlife and their welfare is paramount. Butterflies and dragonflies look much better,imo, in natural light as does all nature.