Adding Context With BIF

There are many styles of bird photography and adding context with BIF can make images of small birds in-flight more interesting. This article features 15 consecutive photographs from a Pro Capture H image run of a downy woodpecker taking flight, and discusses adding context with BIF photography.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 2924 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

As illustrated by the image above, when photographing small birds in flight we sometimes try to make the bird the hero of our image. This often means that we have to apply relatively severe crops and sometimes the resulting photograph can lose some context in terms of the bird’s environment.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4406 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

A different approach is to purposely make the subject bird smaller in the frame. This enables us to include more of the bird’s natural environment in the photograph which adds context. To accomplish this we will often will compose our photograph with the bird off to one side to create a sense of anticipation of where the bird may go when it takes flight. When we compare the two photographs above we can see that the second image includes much more environmental context.

As regular readers will know my standard settings with Pro Capture H are to set both my Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter to 15. This means when I fully depress my shutter release my E-M1X will write 15 images stored in temporary memory to my card, but not create any additional photographs. I also always use a frame rate of 60 fps so I can capture as many incremental changes in wing and body position as my E-M1X will allow.

When photographing small birds taking flight I often fully depress my shutter release as the bird is leaving my composition. Given that I only have 1/4 second of response time when a bird launches into flight I used the bird exiting my frame as my visual clue to end the sequence.

In the case of this particular Pro Capture H run, I fully depressed my shutter release when the downy woodpecker was about 2/3 through the frame. This creates a few more images of the bird in a perched position as we can see in the next 3 consecutive images. This slight change in technique helps to reduce the number of unusable images at the end of the run. It also provides me with a few more frames that I can study to help identify pre-launch behaviour.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4397 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4451 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4439 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

As we examine this image sequence we can see the downy woodpecker going into a tighter crouch posture in order to prepare to launch into flight. In the photograph below we can see that the bird is beginning to spring forward as it launches into flight.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4441 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

The next 8 consecutive frames are what I consider the ‘treasure chest’ of this particular Pro Capture H run as they provide a good selection of potentially usable photographs.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4456 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4437 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4420 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4452 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4414 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4429 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4429 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres
OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4403 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

The next image is not usable as the wings of the downy woodpecker are obstructing the view of its head. When a bird is taking flight we can never be sure of what will happen with body, head and wing positions and these types of unusable photographs can be expected.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4429 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

Using a frame rate of 60 frames per second helps to guarantee a good number of useable images when using Pro Capture H. For best results with Pro Capture H it is recommended that you choose a shooting angle where the subject bird will be flying parallel to the focal plane of your camera. This is important as the first frame locks focus and exposure.

OM-D E-M1`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 4437 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 13 metres

The final image in our sample Pro Capture H run is illustrated above. It was was aggressively cropped and displayed as the opening image in this article.

Adding context with BIF photographs can create more interest. It is easily done by anticipating the flight direction of your subject bird, and allowing room in your composition for the bird to fly through your frame. Pro Capture H is wonderful technology for this type of photography as images will not be committed to memory until after the bird has completed the desired behaviour.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.  Crops are noted. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,142 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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4 thoughts on “Adding Context With BIF”

  1. The aspect of context I think is largely ignored and bokeh-ed away by the school of large sensors and fast lenses. The bokeh-ridden images that pour out from most wildlife and sports shooting is contextless. unless you check the caption it could be in a suburban park or out in the wilds. The bokeh itself could be generated by AI in-camera or in post processing. This obsession for a single subject surrounded by a murky halo of nothingness to my mind is an artistic failure (or laziness) to relate the subject to its environment. It’s like seeing everything with glaucoma! And that is exactly where Micro 4/3 shines because it offers more DOF at low stops to include that context that is a more realistic representation of what we actually see.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment and adding your perspectives! I think as long as photographers understand the impact of focal length, aperture, distance to subject and distance of subject from background on depth-of-field they can create good levels of subject separation when desired, regardless of the camera format that they choose to use. I agree with your point that a creative approach can be overused and end up creating a flood of images that are so similar that they run the risk of being mundane.

      The key to me is for a photographer to understand how to use their gear to create a variety of creative approaches and keep pushing their personal creative envelopes.

      Tom

  2. This is very interesting.I find myself photographing the bird and the bird only without the surroundings.I also have learned a lot on your technique for procap, and how to keep the file count down, now it’s off to try it out. Cheers!

    1. Hi Randy,

      Like you I often concentrate on the bird and do not spend that much time considering context for an image. One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other… just different.’

      Tom

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