Mid-Air Altercations

This article discusses photographing mid-air altercations using a combination of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking and Pro Capture L. When I was thinking about creating this article I had very mixed emotions. On one hand I wanted to share the approach that I used to capture these images with readers. On the other hand,  I was very hesitant to share these photographs as they are of very marginal quality.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

I reached out to a few readers and shared my concerns about using poorer quality images in this post. The feedback that I received from all three of them was to proceed with the article. They felt that sharing my experiences was the most important factor… and that readers would understand the image quality challenges if properly explained. Having said that, I still apologize for the quality of the photographs in this posting.

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, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, full frame capture

As you view the images in this article there are some factors to keep in mind. The first is that the birds involved in these mid-air altercations were about 300 to 500 metres away and photographed in overcast conditions. Most of them were at least 400 metres distant. The photograph above is a full frame capture that helps illustrate how distant the eagles were.

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, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2491 pixels on the width

I was shooting across Hamilton Bay with emissions from two steel mills drifting through the air, causing some atmospheric haze. All of these factors had negative impacts on image quality.

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, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2491 pixels on the width

All of the images in this article were cropped to less than 2500 pixels. and even then the birds in many of the photographs are quite small. This also had a negative impact on image quality as I wasn’t able to get very many megapixels on the subject birds.

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, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2476 pixels on the width

The end result of all of these factors is that many of these photographs are the worst quality images that I have ever used in an article. But… they do represent the kind of in-flight action that can be captured when using a combination of Bird AI and Pro Capture L.  Even though the images are of very marginal quality, I hope this article still provides some value to readers.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2496 pixels on the width

Bird AI Multiple Bird Tracking

Photographing mid-air altercations can be a tricky proposition as the action is erratic and unpredictable. Depending on the bird species and the amount of aggression exhibited, birds are often only in close proximity to each other for a split second. This can make tracking with the birds and shutter timing very challenging.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2494 pixels on the width

Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking can follow multiple birds at the same time. This is very beneficial when trying to keep two birds in your viewfinder simultaneously. You can let your E-M1X or OM-1 do the work for you as the Bird AI technology will automatically draw white boxes around multiple birds-in-flight and track them.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2497 pixels on the width

Typically only one of the birds will be the aggressor, with the other bird taking evasive action trying to escape. I’d suggest keeping your attention on the victimized bird. The aggressor bird often will make successive attacks and re-enter your frame periodically. By keeping your attention on the victimized bird you allow the action to come to you, rather than trying to chase it by following the aggressor bird. Let nature work for you by tracking with the victimized bird.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2501 pixels on the width

The Magic of Pro Capture L

The magic of using Pro Capture L is that you can continuously capture a pre-set number of Pre-Shutter Frames in temporary memory. Once your pre-determined number of Pre-Shutter Frames has been reached your camera will begin dropping older images in temporary memory and adding new ones.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2498 pixels on the width

None of the photographs stored in the temporary memory will be committed to your memory card until you fully depress your shutter release. As you track with your victimized bird with your shutter release half-depressed you are continually adding new images and discarding old ones in temporary memory.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2495 pixels on the width

When the aggressor bird arrives in your frame and actually performs the behaviour you have been anticipating… you can then capture it after-the-fact by fully depressing your shutter release. This is pure heaven! No more wasting shutter count by trying to guess what the birds are going to do and when.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2495 pixels on the width

You simply wait for it to happen while scrolling images into temporary memory… then write the files onto your memory card by fully depressing your shutter release.

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, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2487 pixels on the height

As these mid-air altercations were occurring I kept firing off successive short Pro Capture L bursts. Unfortunately much of the time the birds were very far away and were often just specs in the viewfinder. Even though I knew they were far too distant, I kept on capturing short runs as it was a great opportunity to practice my shutter release timing.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2496 pixels on the width

When photographing mid-air altercations with a zoom lens I’d suggest keeping the size of your victimized bird roughly 15-20% of the width of your frame. This should allow sufficient room in your composition for the aggressor bird to enter the scene, and give you enough time to react with your shutter release. If you aren’t able to react quickly enough, back your focal length off to widen your field of view.

One of the mid-air altercations that I captured featured two raptors  locking their talons and doing a cartwheel in mid-air. Let’s have a look at this mid-air altercation in the next 15 photographs.

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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2488 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2499 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2471 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2492 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2474 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2499 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2484 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2473 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2493 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2485 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2477 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2491 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2472 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2487 pixels on the width
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-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2489 pixels on the width

Let’s close out this article with our final three photographs of a mid-air altercation.

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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2485 pixels on the width
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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2494 pixels on the width
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-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2483 pixels on the width

With some practice using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking with Pro Capture L can be a powerful combination for birds interacting in flight.

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.  Crops are noted. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,139 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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6 thoughts on “Mid-Air Altercations”

  1. Tom,
    These look like immature Bald Eagles, which I presume you photographed close to home. I believe there are at least 2 different incidents represented. They may have been fighting over a feeding territory. It could also be play ..practicing for courtship when they get older since courtship in eagles often includes grasping of feet and tumbling. Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to swap my EM-1iii for the new OM-1 with bird detection.

    1. Hi Glen,

      Thanks for providing some explanations for the behaviour.

      The images were captured at LaSalle Park in Burlington Ontario. Two adult bald eagles along with three immature birds have been frequenting the area. The three immature eagles were in-flight during the period when these images were captured so I’m not sure if all of the photographs were of the same two birds. I captured quite a few other mid-air interactions. The ones in the article were the closest of the interactions I was able to capture.

      I’m planning on going back to LaSalle Park with the hopes of witnessing similar behaviour again. I’ll be changing my physical position in the hope of being much closer.

      Tom

  2. Thanks, glad you decided to post.
    Raptors are great to watch & photograph. Wish you could have been closer but great to show what can be done with m4/3 & especially using PCL.

    I had the PL 100-400 & sold it as soon as the OLY 100-400 was introduced because of Pro Capture Low.

    1. Hi Forrest,

      Yes, it was unfortunate that the raptors were so distant. The population of raptors will increase here in about 6-8 weeks so I’m hoping to capture a lot more images of these beautiful birds. I’ve really been enjoying my M.Zuiko 100-400, especially with the MC-14 teleconverter. I love the size and performance.

      Tom

  3. For bird in flight and with the pro capture feature, would you recommend using the back button (ael) for focus? Any disadvantage?

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