This article features 15 consecutive Pro Capture H images of a Sharp-shinned hawk taking flight in my backyard. My wife noticed the hawk landing on the pergola at the rear of our yard and called out to me. All I had time to do was grab my camera from the family room and quickly capture this image run through my kitchen window.
In an earlier article I discussed this particular sharp-shinned hawk’s previous visits to my backyard in the late fall/early winter timeframe. We’ve had some warmer than usual weather the past few weeks. This weather, coupled with an abundance of small birds in our backyard, may have contributed to the Sharp-shinned hawk still being in the area. I’m beginning to wonder if this hawk has learned to stay in the area all year round.
As I acquired auto-focus on the hawk it glanced over its right shoulder… indicating that it may take flight in the opposite direction to which I was anticipating. I quickly reframed my composition and began saving Pro Capture H images in temporary memory. Almost immediately after I had half-depressed my shutter release, the Sharp-shinned hawk did a quick crouch and took flight.
When shooting with my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm zoom fully extended I would typically have about 1/3 of a metre (~12 to 15 inches) of depth-of-field when photographing a bird perched on the pergola.
Since I had backed my zoom lens off a bit to allow for the wing movement of the hawk I figured I’d still have enough depth-of-field even if the hawk flew at a bit of an angle. That meant there was no need to stop my lens down to increase depth-of-field.
I quickly decided to fully depress my shutter release as the hawk completed its first wing downstroke. My intent was to capture the hawk taking flight as it initially became airborne.
The 15 consecutive photographs of the Sharp-shinned hawk taking flight that follow were captured in a total of 1/4 of a second.
If we examine the first four consecutive images of the hawk taking flight we can see it lowering itself into a crouch position. This is a strong signal that the bird is intending to take flight. Note how much space I left at the top of my composition to allow for the hawk’s wing movements.
In the next four images we can see the hawk beginning to spread its wings in anticipation of taking flight.
I did not do any cropping at the top edge of any of the photographs featured in this article. As you view the next four mages you’ll be able to see how far the hawk’s upward wing movement extended as it was launching into flight.
If you study the last three photographs of the Sharp-shinned hawk taking flight you will notice a slight change in the colour of its eye in frame 13. In frame 14 its eye appears to turn a dull grey. Then, in the final frame its eye returns to its original brighter colour.
Frames 13 and 14 are examples of the raptor’s nictitating membrane being visibly lowered as the hawk is taking flight. Using a fast frame rate (i.e. 60 frames-per-second) allows us to capture these types of subtle differences between consecutive photographs. These two frames happened in a total of 1/30 of a second.
This image run also demonstrates that we don’t always have to use continuous auto-focus when photographing birds taking flight, or even free flying. As was the case with this hawk taking flight, a bird will often not fly far enough to go out-of-focus when a fast frame rate is used. Even when the first frame is locking focus and exposure for the rest of the image run. The most important factor is the flight angle of the subject bird. The more the bird flies parallel to the focal plane of your camera’s sensor, the more likely it will stay in focus.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. My standard Pro Capture H settings were used. My Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter were both set to 15. I shot at 60 frames-per-second using a single AF point. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post. This is the 1,239 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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