Blue Jay Pond Take-off

This article shares some blue jay pond take-off photographs and discusses how birds can signal their intention to take flight. Some commentary about the use of Pro Capture is also included. These images were photographed handheld through my kitchen window.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

In the first image of our blue jay pond take-off series you can see that the bird in centre frame is already in a crouched position with its wings slightly raised from its body. This initial head and shoulder drop of the blue jay was a signal that it may take flight. Since the bird was in water it wasn’t possible to see the position of its legs so I had to rely on its body position only.

I used Pro Capture H to capture this series of images. I would have started spooling images into temporary memory a second or so earlier than this first image.

If you are using a camera without Pro Capture H technology, you would likely begin your image run as soon as you saw the blue jay drop its head and shoulders. down. You may waste a few frames if the bird changes its mind about taking flight.

With Pro Capture H you would wait until the bird is airborne before fully depressing your shutter release. The number of Pre-Shutter Frames and the Frame Limiter setting are fully dependent on a photographer’s objectives for the image run, and their response time.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

In the second image you can see that the blue jay’s crouch has gotten slightly deeper. The other jay is beginning to lean slightly forward as well. This forward leaning motion is another indication that a bird may be about to take flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

In our third image the blue jay in centre frame is beginning to raise its wings, while the other blue jay is continuing to lean further forward. Both of these actions signal the birds are in the process of taking flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

In the fourth frame the blue jay’s wings are raised further and the second jay is beginning to crouch and lean further forward.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

In photograph five the bird in centre frame is raising its wings further to prepare for its initial downstroke so it can become airborne. The blue jay on the right is positioning its body to build up some kinetic energy for its flight launch.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

Frame six shows our first blue jay’s wings raised almost to their maximum as it is nearing its wing downstroke.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

Frame seven shows the first blue jay about to perform its initial downstroke. If you look carefully you’ll see that the jay’s nictitating member has been lowered. This is very common for a bird taking flight. This is the only frame of the thirteen frames featured in this article where the bird’s nictitating membrane is visible.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

I always shoot Pro Capture H using the fastest frame rate possible. For my E-M1X this is 60 frames-per-second. If I was using an OM-1 I would use 120 frames-per-second, with the first frame locking focus and exposure for the balance of the run. I never use Pro Capture L to photograph small birds taking flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

I appreciate that some folks like to use Pro Capture L at a lower frame rate to take advantage of C-AF (continuous auto-focus). The maximum frame rate when using C-AF with my E-M1X is 18 frames-per-second.¬† I’d rather risk a bird flying out of focus and getting more than triple the number of potentially useable frames using standard auto-focus.

My main birding lens is the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS. The maximum continuous auto-focus (C-AF) that this lens can attain is 25 frames-per-second when used with the OM-1. This is only half of the C-AF frame rate that can be achieved with the OM-1 when using the M.Zuiko 150-400 mm zoom or the 300 mm prime. My understanding is that this is a physical limitation based on the M.Zuiko 100-400’s auto-focusing motor.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

Getting back to our blue jay pond take-off series of images… we can see that the first blue jay is about to leave the frame. You’ll notice that the second blue jay’s head and shoulders have dropped down further, with the bird’s back almost in a horizontal position. This indicates that the second blue jay is launching off its perch.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

In image eleven above the second blue jay is leaning far forward with its feet almost leaving the stone on which it was perched. The first blue, now positioned on the extreme left side, is beginning a wing upstroke.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

Frame twelve of this blue jay pond take-off series is one of my favourites. I like the amount of feather detail, the body positions of the birds, and spraying water droplets. If I would have had my E-M1X set to capture some additional frames after I fully depressed my shutter release (i.e. Frame Limiter) I would have been able to get some images of the second blue jay in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.4 metres

I very rarely try to photograph two birds taking flight at the same time. Since I typically photograph individual birds taking flight, I have both my Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter set to 15. This gives me a 1/4 second of response time which I find is sufficient for me to capture the core images of a small bird taking flight.

Once I fully depress my shutter release my E-M1X will write the 15 images stored in temporary memory to my card, but will not record any additional images. I find this helps limit unneeded images and reduces time in post.

The 13 images featured in this article were captured handheld in a little more than 1/5 of a second.

 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 in post. I used my standard Pro Capture H settings to capture all of the images in this article. Both Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter were set to 15. I used a single, small auto-focus point and shot at 60 frames-per-second with the first frame locking focus and exposure for the balance of the run. All images are shown as full frame captures without any cropping done to them. This is the 1,326 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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