WILDLIFE

A jungle adventure: photographing hummingbirds in the rainforest

Discover how Maxime Aliaga used the Canon EOS R5 to capture some of the rainforest's smallest birds in low-light conditions, and why he loves immersing himself in nature.
A hummingbird hovers in flight next to a hanging flower.

During a trip to Peru, wildlife photographer Maxime Aliaga encountered as many as 30 different species of hummingbird and captured some incredible images, such as this shot of a Sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) in flight. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 840mm, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6 and ISO2000. © Maxime Aliaga

The phrase "rainforest photography" might conjure up images of snakes slithering along the forest floor, tree frogs sitting on lush green leaves or orangutans swinging through the tree canopy, but one creature you may not have considered as a rainforest native is the hummingbird.

With an erratic flight pattern and rapidly beating wings – sometimes moving at up to 80 beats per second – the tiny hummingbird, which has an average wingspan of around 10cm, has historically been challenging to photograph, even for those with plenty of experience in bird photography. In the past, cameras have often struggled to focus on these skittish, fast-moving birds, but wildlife photographer and Canon Ambassador Maxime Aliaga says Canon's EOS R System has transformed his work.

Maxime is known for documenting the beauty of the natural world and sharing his passion for conservation. On a recent trip to the Amazon rainforest, he managed to capture beautifully sharp shots of hummingbirds, thanks to the Image Stabilisation and fast, accurate autofocus in his Canon EOS R5 and RF lenses.

"The EOS R System is a revolution," he says, "because now it's so much easier to get the shot."

The challenges of rainforest photography

It's important for Maxime that his kit works in all conditions, whether that's the tropical heat of the jungle or the dust of the desert. The ability to shoot in low light is one of his main requirements, as well as high shutter speeds to photograph animals on the move, such as birds in flight.

He had to face all these challenges when shooting in the rainforest, with his equipment having to withstand high heat and humidity as well as the shadowy conditions created by the tree canopy. Appropriately, the EOS R5 is water-resistant, and can operate in environments up to 40°C and 85% humidity.

"Most of the time in the forest you are in very low light, so ISO has always been an important parameter when I set my camera," Maxime says. "In the past, I couldn't go higher than ISO800. Now I can go so much higher and that's opened up to me a new perspective of taking pictures."

The AF on the EOS R5 can function in light as low as EV -6, which means it can autofocus on subjects even in near-dark conditions.

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A hummingbird, perched on a branch, with the rainforest out of focus in the background.

The autofocus in the EOS R5 uses deep-learning AI, which enables it to recognise and track a subject's face and eyes with new levels of accuracy and precision. Used here to capture a hummingbird, a Gould's jewelfront (Heliodoxa aurescens), this tracking ability is also available when photographing dogs, cats and even motor vehicles, and it works whether you use RF lenses or EF lenses and an EF-EOS R Adapter. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO1600. © Maxime Aliaga

Eye Detection AF: a new era

Maxime finds the EOS R5's autofocus capabilities particularly useful when photographing fast-moving animals such as hummingbirds. The moment he spots the animal, he presses the AF-On button and the Animal Eye Detection AF in the EOS R5 is able to lock the focus directly on its eyes. Then he lets his kit do the work so he can stay in the zone and focus fully on his subject and his craft.

"Taking pictures of hummingbirds is very challenging because they move so fast in all kinds of directions," he says. "But now I can select the focus zone and the camera does the job. Even with hummingbirds, the Eye Detection AF just works."

Maxime has been impressed with the camera's Eye Detection AF capabilities on other bird photography shoots and describes it as beginning a new era in photography.

"I was in Spain taking pictures of some very rare eagles. They're very beautiful birds and I got the shot with the Animal Detection AF – out of 20 pictures, they are all sharp. I was just amazed. In the past I had failed to capture those kinds of images – but it was part of the process."

The advanced technologies and features in EOS R System cameras make it possible to go further even when using EF lenses from your existing kitbag. Maxime says the capabilities of the EOS R System have made him want to revisit some of his past shoots. "I want to go back to places I've shot in before to do some new, more creative things, because I know now I have the capacity to do that."

Although it is extremely physically tiring, Maxime finds it hard to sleep when out on a rainforest expedition. He says it's difficult for him to settle down for the night because he knows a world of discoveries awaits him. So, he often grabs his camera and a macro lens and goes in search of insects and tree frogs. He says, "I love to walk during the night, because it's another world; all the species you have seen during the day are sleeping and nocturnal animals are active."

A buzzard, with its wings raised, prepares to take off from a branch.

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An orangutan pictured through a gap in the forest foliage, surrounded by green leaves.

Maxime is passionate about rainforests around the world and the amazing diversity of animals found there. "It's crazy, all the different species living together in a well-balanced ecosystem, all interacting together," he says. He is renowned for his photos of the elusive orangutan in its natural environment. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/640 sec, f/5.6 and ISO5000. © Maxime Aliaga

A spoonwing insect (Nemoptera bipennis) flying through the air, sharp against a blurred background.

Maxime relishes the unknown and enjoys being surprised by what he finds in nature. He says it is impossible to be bored when doing this work. "It's such a pleasure to discover so many different species – a crazy butterfly, a colourful bird, a tiny frog." He tries to capture the beauty of all animals, no matter their size. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100mm F2.8L MACRO IS USM lens at 1/8000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO200. © Maxime Aliaga

Freezing rapid movement and capturing fine detail

Maxime uses shutter speeds of up to 1/8000 sec to photograph hummingbirds. "I use a high shutter speed because you need to freeze their movement," he says. In addition to this high shutter speed, the EOS R5 can capture images at up to 20 frames per second with its electronic shutter. "I can take pictures of hummingbirds that I couldn't take in the past and I'm always impressed when I review my pictures," he says.

The EOS R5's high-resolution 45MP CMOS sensor is perfect for capturing ultra-fine detail, and its advanced In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), delivering up to 8-stops of IS with compatible RF lenses, means that when Maxime is photographing wildlife in low light at dawn or dusk, he can shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds and still have a very sharp picture.

Shooting handheld can actually be an advantage when photographing in low light, Maxime adds, as the extra mobility makes it easier to angle your camera towards the nearest light source.

A hummingbird captured in flight, close up, its wings outstretched and blurred by motion.

In order to capture creatures as fast-moving as this hummingbird, a Golden-tailed sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone), Maxime used a fast shutter speed and shot with his lens wide open. The shallow depth of field blurs the backgrounds and ensures that the focus is entirely on the subject. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO2000. © Maxime Aliaga

Photography and emotion

For Maxime, photography is not just a passion and a career. "Photography can be like therapy," he says. "Obviously it's my work but it's also an excuse for me to go into nature, because I want to take pictures."

For the first few days of an expedition, Maxime doesn't take any photos. Instead, he fully immerses himself in the environment. He observes the animals and how they interact with each other, and when he feels connected he picks up his camera. For Maxime, the whole process is an emotional one: he needs to feel a connection to his location and subject.

"It feels like I don't exist anymore," he explains. "I'm just part of nature. I'm surrounded by nature. I am nature. And then only at this time, when I create a connection with the animals, am I able to take pictures. I need this emotion because wildlife is another world."

Shkruar nga Tamzin Wilks


Maxime Aliaga's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Camera

Canon EOS R5

Whatever you shoot, however you shoot it, the mirrorless EOS R5 allows you to be creative in ways you simply couldn't before. "Weight is important to me and this body is light," says Maxime. "The subject tracking is just 'wow', and the low-light performance means I can take pictures now that I couldn't have taken three years ago."

Lenses

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

This compact, high-performance 100-400mm zoom lens is ideal for sports, action and wildlife photography. "When you walk in the forest for hours, you need a lens that's very light and has a good focal length for distant subjects," says Maxime.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

A high-performance L-series super-telephoto lens, with 4-stop Image Stabiliser and three modes ideal for all types of action photography. "I like this lens for the sharpness and high quality of the images, and I love the bokeh it produces," says Maxime.

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM

A super lightweight 600mm f/4 lens, delivering outstanding image quality and a polished professional performance. A five-stop Image Stabiliser enables you to shoot handheld, letting you react more quickly.

Accessories

Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

Use EF and EF-S lenses on EOS R System cameras with no loss of quality or functionality. The Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R adds a customisable Control Ring like those on RF lenses, and the Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R adds the ability to use drop-in filters, removing the need to fit filters on the front of a lens, especially useful for wide-angles with a large front lens element.

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

This robust flash is engineered for fast frame rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations. Maxime says: "When I'm in the rainforest, I carry a Speedlite because it can really make a difference when shooting macro subjects in low light."

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