Pairs of Swallows

This article features a collection of handheld photographs captured with an E-M1X, all of which feature pairs of swallows in flight. Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking was used for all of the images in this article.

These photographs were captured during my recent swallow Bird AI test session at Windermere Basin Park in Hamilton Ontario. While I was primarily focused on photographing individual airborne swallows, I did have some opportunities to capture pairs of swallows in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4818 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.9 metres

To photograph pairs of swallows I typically like to use a longer focal length and to position myself a bit further away from where I expect this type of interaction to occur. This tends to give me a bit more latitude with how I frame the action in my viewfinder.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2723 pixels on the height, distance to subject 18.6 metres

These opportunities can be fleeting. Others are a little bit more predictable if the subject birds are flying above nesting boxes… which was the case with the images in this article.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4272 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.9 metres

When it comes to photographing swallows the operative words are ‘fast action’. Watching for patterns of behaviour in the vicinity of specific nesting boxes can be very helpful to capture these types of photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2976 pixels on the width, distance to subject 21.6 metres

This time of year pairs of swallows can regularly be seen flying around the same nesting box. Since no eggs have yet been laid both birds are usually actively flying as they hunt for insects.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3282 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.7 metres

The interaction between the swallows can appear calm and benign much of the time.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-320, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4818 pixels on the width, distance to subject 16.4 metres

Other photographs can reveal some aggressiveness or some kind of active pursuit.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3254 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.7 metres

There are a good number of swallows at Windermere Basin Park at this time of year. Sometimes capturing pairs of swallows in flight has a definite element of luck.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-320, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3096 pixels on the height, distance to subject 16.2 metres

Capturing a mid-air traffic jam can yield some interesting body postures as we can see in the above image.

On rare occasions the swallows stay close enough together while flying that a few consecutive images can be captured. An example of this are the next two photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4097 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3767 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.5 metres

The image that many folks really enjoy capturing is a face-to-face altercation with pairs of swallows in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3270 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.9 metres

The final image in this article is one of my favourites from my swallow Bird AI test session.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3966 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.9 metres

I absolutely love the body positions of the swallows. Their strong visual connection. And, the lighting on the backside of the outstretched wings. Sometimes it pays to have Lady Luck on your side!

My next article, Swallow BIF Technique, will provide some considerations when photographing this subject matter.

Technical Note

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 of the original images are indicated where appropriate.

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4 thoughts on “Pairs of Swallows”

  1. Incredible captures, Thomas! You seem have mastered Bird AI and it really pushing the limits of your bird photography!

    I recently moved from Panasonic G9 to E-M1X and still struggling with different modes for bird and BiFs. My experience with Bird AI isn’t very consistent so I can rely on it – often it fails to focus on bird, not quick enough to focus and often it way too slow to detect the moving bird – with tracking enabled it just can’t catch up following the bird movement. Can’t imagine I can make it work with such swift birds as swallows!

    I’m shooting with Panaleica 200mm lens – maybe this is the reason? Like E-M1X Bird AI works better with Olympus lenses 🙂

    1. Hi Yuri,

      It has been quite a long time since I used any Panasonic gear (GH-4 and a couple of f/2.8 pro zooms for a short period in the summer of 2015). I’ve never even held the Panasonic 200 mm or the 100-400 mm… so I can’t really comment whether Bird AI is impacted when mounting Panasonic lenses on an E-M1X and using Bird AI.

      I’m not sure if you saw my earlier article that provided tips on using Bird Detection AI: https://smallsensorphotography.com/bird-detection-ai-tips . If you haven’t read this article it may be of some help. I know there are a number of YouTube videos that have recommendations on how to use Bird AI. From my experience some of these suggest doing things that I’ve found are counterproductive, such as engaging all AF points or some kind of cluster of AF points. I only use a single AF point whenever I use Bird AI. I also have my E-M1X set so it won’t let me capture any images unless it has acquired C-AF. This setting doesn’t work 100% of the time but it does reduce the number of spoiled images.

      Bird AI does take some time to become comfortable using it and getting a feel for its nuances. For example, one of the things that I discovered is that I don’t always have to wait for the ‘green box’ to show on my EVF before I fire off images: https://smallsensorphotography.com/strikeouts

      I’ve spent a number of months using Bird AI exclusively for my bird photography (other than when shooting in Pro Capture H) and I really can’t imagine why I would want to use anything else. Some of this may be due to my style of bird photography, being stubborn about forcing myself to learn to use it, and perhaps the settings that I use. All I can say is that I am very comfortable with the technology and find it to be the most effective option for bird photography with my E-M1X.

      Tom

  2. Fantastic shots as always. An inspiration to us lesser mortals.
    You may have covered this previously, what are the consequences of shooting BIF with Image Stabilization on or off?

    1. Hi Colin,

      Turning image stabilization off has more impact when shooting from a tripod, where leaving it on can contribute to some image blur.

      It really depends on the effectiveness of the stabilization in the body and/or lens. The only thing that ever concerned me personally is when the subject would ‘float’ in the frame due to image stabilization/VR and I would sometimes not get the subject framing that I was expecting. Turning off the image stabilization, or framing the photograph a little ‘looser’ are typical solutions.

      I haven’t noticed any specific issues leaving the IBIS on when using my E-M1X to photograph birds-in-flight so I leave it turned on. I have the IS in my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 turned off as I find it a little bit jumpy compared to using the IBIS with my E-M1X. This is most noticeable with static subjects or perched birds. I will use the IS in the lens when shooting at quite slow shutter speeds… but other than that I leave it turned off.

      Tom

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