If you’re like me you probably seldom, if ever, use the small pop-up flash that is on your camera. I’ve had my Nikon 1 V3 for a couple of months now and it has become my dedicated birding and nature camera. My wife and I were recently on a very short vacation in British Columbia and I had an unexpected opportunity to photograph some hummingbirds. Unfortunately the feeders that the birds were frequenting were under permanent canopies that created very dark lighting conditions. After trying to shoot some very high ISO images without any success I decided to put the pop-up flash on my Nikon 1 V3 to the test. Since I had never used this pop-up flash before I shrugged and thought, “Well…either it will work or it won’t.”
My first concern was whether the tiny flash on my V3 would be strong enough to provide sufficient light under these dark conditions. I discovered that as long as I stayed within 8-10 feet (about 3 metres) of the hummingbirds the pop-up flash on my V3 was sufficient.
The other concern was whether the light from the flash would cast a shadow caused by my 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm zoom lens on the subject hummingbirds thus rendering the resulting images unusable. I was pleasantly surprised when no such shadowing occurred. I began by photographing perched hummingbirds as they afforded me a bit more time with which to acquire focus on them. There is a very slight lag between the time that I press the shutter on my Nikon 1 V3 to when the flash actually fires.
After capturing a reasonable selection of usable images of perched hummingbirds I then moved on to attempt to photograph them while in flight. This meant choosing subject hummingbirds that were maintaining a stable mid-air position while they were hovering, otherwise with a shutter speed of 1/250 I knew I would get some body blur in my photographs. Another challenge was that some of the hummingbirds were so fast that they would almost leave the frame during the split second lag between the shutter release and the flash firing.
I usually shoot hummingbirds in flight using very fast shutter speeds such as 1/5000 in order to ‘freeze’ the wing position of the birds. Using the V3’s pop-up flash meant that my shutter speed would be set to 1/250 so I needed to accept the fact that all of my photographs would have wing blur.
After working with my images in post I discovered that the wing blur did not bother me at all, although I still do prefer ‘frozen’ wing positions. I shot my Nikon 1 V3 using AF-C with subject tracking. After a bit of experimenting I decided that spot metering yielded the best results.
While the images in this article certainly are not of professional quality, they would likely be acceptable to many people who photograph birds on a more casual basis as I do. This little experiment was both challenging and a ton of fun!
A lesson was also reinforced for me through this experiment…that being the importance of me thinking about the gear that I have with me at any given time to determine if I can use it in a new or different way than I have in the past. If I wouldn’t have thought about using the pop-up flash on my Nikon 1 V3 I would have missed out on a lot of fun and the opportunity to create these images.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 V3 with pop-up flash engaged, and a 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. All images in the article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of OpticsPro 11, CS6 and the Nik Suite.
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Thanks for sharing your experiences photographing hummingbirds! I will likely use a flash from time to time.
I had always tried to photograph hummingbirds in natural light, due to the thought that the flash would startle them. However, last summer, I just happened to attempt a shot on a drizzly, dim afternoon. The hummer did’t seem to mind the flash at all, and , upon reviewing the photo, I was very pleased to see that the iridescent colors of her feathers popped so much better than I had been able to achieve in earlier shots, that I now use flash for this purpose quite often, even in full sunlight.
Your in-camera flash worked very good !
Yes it did Jorge – surprisingly well!
This group of bird photos are Totally Delightful!!! I love these little ones and you did a wonderful job getting so many super photos of them.
Thanks Joni! It was ‘totally delightful’ photographing these little gems as well!
These are wonderful. I would love to read an article about your workflow with Optics Pro, CS, and Nik. Golly, what magic Nikon brewed with the tiny CX sensor (and the high-end 70-300 lens). I had to give up my V1 because I shoot indoors almost exclusively, where high ISOs are required. (Canon 6D.) But I hope Nikon will expand on its CX technology, maybe with a cheaper line of bodies that will attract consumer-level users and gain the reputation the sensor deserves. Always enjoy your articles, Thomas!
p.s. Thomas, I see the link to your post-processing article in your response to another comment – thanks!
Thanks for the positive comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the images! Small sensor cameras like the Nikon 1 series are challenged when it comes to shooting under low light conditions. I used to keep my ISO to a maximum of 800 when I first started shooting with the Nikon 1 system. Using OpticsPro and specifically the PRIME noise reduction function, has changed my attitude quite a bit. I now have no hesitation to shoot my Nikon 1 cameras using a camera setting of ISO-3200 as I find that the noise can easily be addressed in post.
Hummingbirds are great subjects. It is a pity that the images involve feeders. I understand that they help, but I feel much better when I can photograph them feeding naturally. What are your feelings about this?
I agree wholeheartedly! My favourite hummingbird images are of birds hovering in front of flowers and feeding naturally. Images like that are much harder to capture which makes them that much more rewarding.
Great pictures! 2 questions pop into my mind:
1) How did you get 8-10 feet from hummingbirds? I have a feeder at my house, and they will almost never feed with me that close. Was there some sort of blind to hide behind? Were they at a nature center where they are habituated to humans? Did you wear red? :-)
2) Can you get sharp hand-held photos at efov 800 mm and 1/250 in good light, no flash to freeze the subject? VR?
Keep posting. Glad your retirement was short-lived.
The used CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 does have a VR system…
And the VR on the 1 Nikon CX 70-300 is very good indeed!
Thanks for the positive comment! Here are some answers to your questions:
1) There was a short stone wall adjacent to one of the feeders that I stood on to raise myself up to the height of the feeder. I was right up against some shrubs and did my best to remain motionless with my camera already raised to eye level. The images were taken at a garden that is open to the public so the hummingbirds were not quite as skittish, although this did vary by bird.
2) I typically use a shutter speed of 1/5000 to ‘freeze’ the motion of a hummingbird’s wings as anything slower causes some wing blur in my images. I turned the VR off for many of the hummingbird images that I took that particular afternoon as the action was happening so fast that the VR on my CX 70-300 didn’t have quite enough time to ‘settle in’. As a result I wasn’t able to get the exact framing that I wanted in my photograph with the VR engaged…so I took a bit of a chance and shot with it turned off.
2a) I almost never use a tripod or flash for my still photography work.
2b) I’ve shot my V2/V3 cameras with the 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm at quite slow shutter speeds fully extended (i.e. efov 810mm) using VR on a regular basis. The shutter speed is really determined by subject matter. I often will photograph perched birds at 1/60 in indoor venues with a high success rate. My best ever test hand-held image was at 1/5 shooting hand-held at an efov of 810mm – but I had to capture about 20 attempts at that shutter speed to get my one good test shot.
Beautiful demonstration of what your talent and what is supposed to be a “small/diminutive” camera like the Nikon V3 can do. Timely advice as summer is already here in our part of the world and the birds are out in full force.
Migration is beginning in my part of the world as well and I’m hoping to get out and photograph birds a lot more than I did last year.
I did crop a bit on most of the images…no more than 10% to 20% on the image width.
As far as noise reduction goes, I’ve found that my Nikon 1 files respond very nicely to DxO OpticsPro 11 and I use that program as my primary RAW processor. The PRIME noise reduction in OpticsPro does quite a nice job on my Nikon 1 files and I apply PRIME to all of my Nikon 1 images regardless of the ISO at which they were captured. I finish my files off with a modest number of adjustments in CS6 and the Nik Suite.
If you are going to move into the Fujifilm camera system you will not be able to use OpticsPro as that software does not support Fuji cameras.
Nice fun photography and some really nice results. How much a crop did you do if any?
What ever you did in the noise removal process was great. I have yet to get the high-ISO noise removal process perfected like you have done on these shots. I am considering downsizing my equipment from D800E/D7200 and FX glass to Fugifilm XT2. Currently just using the XT2 (18-55mm kit lens) to see if I “really” want to do it but first need to get down the noise reduction process. Any references for helping in noise processing I would appreciate it. I have Adobe LR/CC subscription plus the NIK software.