Anticipating Behaviour

Anticipating behaviour (an important component of knowing our photographic subjects) is one of the three most important factors that contributes to us being successful bird and nature photographers. In my view, it is the most important factor.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, -0.7 EV, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4026 pixels on the width, subject distance 100 metres

As photographers we can spend an inordinate amount of time researching and comparing camera gear. Even when we are not actively in the market for new equipment. Staying abreast of the ‘latest and greatest’ gear can become an obsession. Precious time, that could be spent out in the field with our existing camera gear creating images, is wasted sitting in front of a computer screen consuming camera equipment specifications.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 80 mm, efov 160 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H

Regardless of the camera that we may own, anticipating behaviour allows us to proactively use our gear to its best effect. We may notice a bird doing a slight crouch… signaling its intention to take flight.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

Other people proximate to us may be hand feeding birds. As individual birds become acclimatized to humans they lose their inhibitions and may feel comfortable landing on an outstretched hand. Anticipating behaviour in terms of a bird coming in to land in this scenario is pretty much a no brainer.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 180 mm, efov 360 mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO-6400

We may observe birds exhibiting some aggressive body postures which can include lowering their head and neck in a threat display. Some species have wing positions that signal aggression. A full blown attack or chase can erupt. Anticipating behaviour can allow us to capture some interesting, action sequences.

Some birds can become territorial at certain times of year. For example, when a number of individuals are feeding in the same area, sometimes skirmishes over a food source can erupt.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, -1 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, -1 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, -1 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, -1 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, -1 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H mode

Anticipating behaviour of this nature can yield wonderful ‘slice of life’ image runs.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/1600, ISO-2500, cropped to 4457 pixels on width

Birds are creatures of habit and will often follow established flight paths and land in the same area of their habitat.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1000

Many birds are migratory and will only appear at certain locations for limited time frames during the year. Anticipating this behaviour and timing, photographers can plan in advance to be at the right place at the right time to take advantage of these time limited photographic opportunities.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.7 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 24.8 metres

Some birds will repeat their hunting or fishing attempts multiple times in the same area. Observant photographers can capitalize on these repetitive behaviours.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-500, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3124 pixels on the width

At times birds can be playful, dropping items like stones and twigs in mid-air and then retrieving them. This behaviour is often repeated multiple times… creating image opportunities.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8.1, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, subject distance 7 metres

If we identify the location of a bird’s nest, anticipating take-off and landing behaviour can yield good photographic opportunities.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2658 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 67.8 metres

After diving to catch fish, terns will regularly do mid-air shakes to help dispel water from their feathers. Photographs of contorted body and wing positions can be captured by anticipating this behaviour.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 860 mm, f/8.8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4099 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.2 metres

Anticipating behaviour of insects can also result in photographic opportunities. For example, butterflies will often frequent specific flowering plants and shrugs for extended periods of time. A friend of mine sat on my back deck with me for a few hours while we captured a great assortment of photographs of butterflies in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/4000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, full frame capture, subject distance 3.7 metres

Dragonflies will often return to the same perch multiple times, landing in the exact same position. Anticipating behaviour of this nature helps a photographer find a suitable shooting position and angle, and capture an array of interesting images.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-640, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3188 pixels on the width, subject distance 6.5 metres

Many species of birds tend to be skittish and will take short flights within the same tree constantly. By observing the birds we can identify the most active areas of the tree and position ourselves accordingly as we wait for the activity to play out in front of our eyes.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MCV-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4220 pixels on the width, subject distance 52.5 metres

Often birds will travel in mated pairs. When the first bird takes flight, its partner will usually follow within a few seconds. Anticipating this behaviour allows us to focus our attention on the second bird, usually with good results.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres

Being aware of mating season enables us to anticipate various interactions of the amorous type.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 285 mm, efov 570 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-16000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3718 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.1 metres

There are three fundamental factors that contribute to our success with bird photography…

  1. Understanding our subjects so we can anticipate behaviour.
  2. In depth knowledge of our camera gear, and being able to use it effectively in a range of situations.
  3. The capabilities and attributes of the camera gear we own.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3692 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.1 metres

Many of us spend far too time and money fretting about our camera gear, and not paying nearly enough attention to understanding our subjects, and learning how to effectively use our current camera equipment.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2677 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

If we wanted to make a New Year’s resolution that would lead to us being more effective bird photographers, it would be to go out with our cameras more often, and study bird behaviour more intently.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post. This is the 1,231 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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4 thoughts on “Anticipating Behaviour”

  1. Hi Tom. Interesting how birds of one same specie use different techniques. First two mallards first spread their wings wide open to push on water for some lift, when the third one simply raised wings over its head and, pushing with its feet, “jumped” out of water like a jack in a box, which caused the hollow.
    Like to make Time Lapse movies from such short sequences and presently experiencing with Topaz Video AI Super Slow Motion – with frame interpolation.
    Vic

    1. Hi Vic,

      I suppose birds are like people and individuals may learn different approaches. I love to shoot at high frame rates so I can see incremental wing and body movements… I find it fascinating.

      Tom

  2. Hi Thomas,
    Interesting read and nice pictures, as usual.

    Lately, a mallard, simply floating/doing nothing, called my attention when it suddenly started to “hick up”, and I just had time to frame it to get full taking off from standby to mid air – abt 2 full secs of 50fps ProCapture – no limit.
    Less than 2 mins later, another male started to “hick up” too, and literally exploded, leaving a nice hollow in the waterbed, which turned to big splashes a couple of images later.
    This behaviour could to be cultural at that pond as I could get a third one taking off in a similar way two days later.
    Always pleased to discover your posts
    Vic.

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