I’ve had a few people comment on my Cozumel Emerald Hummingbird photos and how well I managed to track them and get them in focus. Hummingbirds move fast, very fast and as they are also so tiny it’s really difficult to track and predict where they are going to be. You could just set up focus on one flower and wait, but that’s not what I did so I thought I’d share how I tracked them.
Of course, having a camera and lens that auto-focuses quickly and accurately is going to help, but that’s only half of it as you still have to follow the bird as it flies around at incredible speed.
In theory, there’s a simple technique that can help, in practice, it takes some getting used to; KEEP BOTH EYES OPEN!
For this quick technique guide, I chose to photograph the rare Little Pink Moneybox Owl and just to make you aware, this is a captive bird!
This first photo is with the lens (AF-S 80-400mm) zoomed at 400mm. If you can imagine that this Owl was flying around like a Hummingbird, there isn’t much of a view of the scene visible to your eye through the viewfinder. This makes tracking the subject very difficult as you cannot predict where it’s going to fly.
For a comparison, I stood in the same spot and changed to a 50mm lens. On a Full Frame Camera the angle of view is pretty close to what a human eye sees. Look how much more of the scene is visible. Of course, you can’t shoot with the 50mm as the subject is just a tiny dot in the frame.
Therefore, by keeping both eyes open you have both scenes available to you. It does take a while to get used to it as your brain has to process two different scenes and you need to be able to look at both at the same time. It does however, help to predict where the subject might be flying next. It also helps when the subject leaves the frame as you can quickly get it back.
I learnt this technique from trying to photograph House Martins and Swallows in flight and the Cozumel Emerald Hummingbird photos was the first time where I really had to rely on this technique. Get out and practice, even if you are shooting static subjects as it’ll help get your brain used to processing two scenes.