Observing habitual bird behaviour is an important component of capturing successful photographs of birds exhibiting various actions. This article shares a 15-frame Pro Capture H image run of of male cardinal taking flight from our pond and discusses considerations that contributed to these photographs.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
At first blush where I have positioned the male cardinal in the composition may look a bit strange. The bird was taking a bath on the left-hand side of our pond which is below our kitchen window.
In terms of exhibiting habitual bird behaviour, I knew from ongoing observations that most birds visiting our pond fly from right to left when leaving. Even though the cardinal was facing towards the right, I anticipated that it would change direction as it took flight.
There are logical reasons for this common flight path. There are a deck, outdoor furniture and a gazebo to the right hand side of our pond. All of these represent obstacles to flight. It is much safer for birds to take flight in the opposite direction. Birds know that predators are usually ambush hunters, so they tend to use open flight paths when possible.
I positioned the cardinal in the bottom right hand corner since it would need to launch at about a 45-degree angle to clear the flagstone border that runs around the perimeter of the top portion of our pond.
Whenever I use Pro Capture H I anticipate that my ‘money shot’ will occur towards the middle of my image run. Assuming of course that my shutter release timing was appropriate.
As noted in previous articles I have my Pre-Shutter Frames and my Frame Limiter both set to 15. Once I fully depress my shutter release the 15 Pre-Shutter Frames will be committed to memory, and my E-M1X will not capture any additional frames. I always use Pro Capture H utilizing a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second. This allows me 1/4 second to respond to a bird taking flight.
I do my best to time my shutter release just before a subject bird leaves the frame. This gives me the most opportunities to capture potentially usable photographs of a small bird in flight.
The photograph above is the 8th one in this 15 frame image run and is the ‘money shot’ referred to earlier. Obviously my backyard pond during early spring is not the most attractive environment. Imagine this cardinal taking flight from a more natural setting.
Observing habitual bird behaviour helps us compose a photograph anticipating where our ‘money shot’ will be created in the image run.
It can also help us identify fishing and hunting behaviours before they occur. Birds typically signal any aggression in advance.
It’s been my experience that most folks who enjoy bird photography are willing to provide insights about habitual bird behaviours when asked for assistance.
It’s best to wait for a lull in the action and not dominate the other photographer’s time. Asking specific questions like, “How did you know that bird was going to take flight?” enables quick uptake of key insights.
Knowing how to use our camera gear effectively is only one part of having a successful bird photography session.
Taking the time to learn habitual bird behaviour is equally important. Its not enough to be ‘at the right place at the right time’. We can still miss all kinds of wonderful photographs if we fail to recognize image opportunities in advance of them occurring. Understanding habitual bird behaviour is critical.
Spending even 15 to 20 minutes intently watching birds every time we’re out with our cameras can pay huge dividends.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted for each photograph.
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