Allowing For Wing Movement

When photographing birds taking flight, allowing for wing movement needs to be considered. This is especially important if a photographer’s objective is not to clip the bird’s wings. This article shares a selection of 15 photographs captured during the same Continuous Auto-Focus image run. All photographs are displayed as 100% captures without any cropping.

Let’s begin by looking at 12 consecutive images from the first part of the AF-C run.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

As we can see in the first photograph in the sequence, I have positioned the bird in the bottom left corner of my frame. This is to allow for the bird to thrust itself upward and extend its wings while still remaining in the frame.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

In the next frame the heron is extending its wings in preparation for its first, full wing beat.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

With its wings now fully extended upwards we can see why allowing for wing movement is an important consideration when capturing this type of action.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

As the heron begins its first powerful down stroke we can see it begin to rise up from the water.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

As its legs leave the water they create some good surface splash details. The birds wings are now at their maximum horizontal width and are still completely in the frame.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

As the heron completes its first wing beat it draws its wings across its chest. This provides us with a good view of the feather detail on the topside of its right wing.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

Now fully airborne, the heron is at the start of its second downward wing stroke. We now can see a water trail forming from its legs and feet. Details of the underside of the heron’s wings are now nicely visible.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

As the heron gains air speed its body is thrust more forward. You can see that its right wing is slightly clipped at the top of the frame. This is often the hardest part of capturing an action sequence as a photographer must begin to pan with the bird. I did not pan upward and to the right at quite the right speed and angle.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

Often when taking flight a heron will call out loudly. Capturing the bird with its beak open is always a bonus. The photograph above is one of my favourites from the run. As you can see in the image above, allowing for wing movement is also important from a horizontal perspective.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

The photograph above shows the heron’s wings at the end of its second down stroke.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

To capture this sequence I had my camera set for low sequential silent shutter… which gives me an 18 frames-per-second capture rate. By comparing the heron’s wing positions from frame to frame, you can see that the tempo of its wing beats has increased.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

The image above is another of my favourites from the AF-C run. There is a very slight wing clip at the top of the frame. Many viewers would not initially even notice that given the dramatic pose of the heron. One of the reasons that I enjoy using a micro-four-thirds camera for birds in flight is having a bit more vertical room in my frames. When allowing for wing movement, I am able to get in a bit tighter to my subject birds with M4/3 camera gear.

Let’s pick up the sequence at frames 32 to 34 of the AF-C run.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1000, -0.7 step

It is a matter of personal choice whether a photographer wants to keep firing their AF-C run as the bird-in-flight becomes more distant. Depending on my shooting angle I often end my AF-C run shortly after a bird becomes airborne.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1000, -0.7 step

Since this heron was flying away on a somewhat parallel path to my position, I continued my AF-C run. The result was being rewarded with a couple of images with some foot/water contact.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1000, -0.7 step

If you look at the EXIF data on the last three images, you’ll see that the ISO value has changed from ISO-1250 to ISO-1000. I had my camera’s ISO set to auto. As the heron flew into stronger sunlight this caused the ISO to shift slightly.

As a separate aside… my Olympus OM-D E-M1X fitted with an M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter nailed focus with all 42 photographs that I captured with this AF-C run. Suffice to say that I am quite pleased with this gear combination for birds-in-flight.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process, and are displayed as 100% captures without any cropping. At the beginning of the image sequence the subject bird was approximately 30 metres away.

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6 thoughts on “Allowing For Wing Movement”

  1. Nice shots! It looks as if there is a slight wing clip in image 1. I also see some wing blur in other shots. Would it have been better to have dropped the f-stop by one-thing and increased the speed by one-third?

    1. Hi William,

      I used f/8 because great blue herons are large birds and I wanted a bit more depth-of-field. I was shooting with the MC-20 teleconverter so going to f/8 was basically f/4 in terms of DOF. A shutter speed of 1/1600 would have been a better choice in terms of freezing the wing movement. That would have bumped my ISO up a bit more… which would have worked out. I think it was one of those ‘live and learn’ moments.

      Tom

  2. Tom,

    I also love the beak open heron image in this particular AF-C run you featured. Second one would be the last two where the heron appears to be running/walking on water. I’m continued to be impressed by the Oly E-M1X, of course paired with your skill set. I’m trying my best recreating the moment when the airplane taking off “jumps” off into the air and “detaching” its wheels from the runway — must be the feeling of the heron when it launches off into the air from a wading position.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      I have a very simple evaluation of the air plane flights that I have taken during my lifetime… if we land wheels down… it was a good flight!

      The more I use my E-M1X… the more I love it! I’ve been doing a bit of landscape work lately… as well as some macro with some new gear. More on that in the weeks to come…

      Tom

      1. Tom,

        Will be watching this space for your landscape images. It will be interesting how the E-M1X fares in terms of sceneries vis-a-vis your Nikon 1 gear.

        By the way, I’m interested to know your thoughts about making the shift to M/43 in the wake of the introduction of the first Nikon APS-C offering (Z50). Personally, I find it interesting though the lens road map for the format is, as always the case for Nikon DX, not encouraging.

        Oggie
        http://www.lagalog.com

        1. Hi Oggie,

          Although I haven’t done extensive landscape shooting so far, I am very pleased with the E-M1X. There is more than enough dynamic range and colour depth with which to work in post. On dead still mornings I’ve been able to do handheld sunrise images of 4 to 5 seconds. IBIS in the E-M1X is superb and allows a photographer to shoot at base ISO easily as long as wind conditions permit. I just completed some fall forest scenes during which the fastest shutter speed I used was 1/25. All of the photographs had a maximum ISO of 200, some were lower. Most of my images were captured at between 1/5 and 1/15. Having PRO zooms like the 7-14 mm f/2.8 and 12-40 mm f/2.8 are ideal for landscape work. For folks who like to use primes there are three excellent PRO f/1.2 primes. I only own the PRO 45 mm as that’s all I need for my business. The Olympus lens road map has more fast PRO primes planned. So from a lens perspective buying into M4/3 gives photographers access to some wonderful M.Zuiko PRO glass. The consumer lenses are also of very high quality given their price points and target market.

          I have no regrets at all moving to M4/3 with Olympus, and especially the E-M1X. It is such a flexible and capable camera that it keeps on surprising me on a frequent basis. A few weeks back I was out photographing some birds on an overcast day. Only a couple of other photographers were out that morning. Both were shooting with ‘big gun’ gear. When it started to rain they both packed up and headed for cover. I just blissfully kept shooting and didn’t have to care at all about the inclement weather. Shooting with the E-M1X is a liberating experience. I don’t have to care about weather or tripods.

          The APS-C format is of no interest to me, so the fact that Nikon has started introducing mirrorless gear of this type is a non-issue for me. I have a “What’s in our Olympus Bag” article that will be appearing soon. You may find it of particular interest.

          Tom

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