Photographing Incoming Birds

This article discusses some of the issues associated with photographing incoming birds in flight. All photographs were captured handheld using the Pro Capture H mode on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

To demonstrate some of the considerations to keep in mind, this posting features parts of two image runs. The first is of a nuthatch flying in to take some food from an outstretched palm.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

I used a single auto-focus point positioned on the peanuts in the outstretched palm.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

By half-depressing the shutter release on my Olympus OM-D E-M1X I activated the Pro Capture H Mode. This allowed my camera to begin to record images and store them in temporary memory.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

You can see as the nuthatch approached it began to spread its wings in order to slow down to land.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

The nuthatch’s wings are fully extended, creating a nice visual display.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

In the frame above we can see that the nuthatch is now at the proper approach angle and is beginning to extend its legs and digits.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

Wings swept back and it legs and digits fully extended in preparation for landing, the above image communicates a good level of anticipation.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

Just as the nuthatch is about to touchdown it closes its eyes. I find this absolutely fascinating!

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 4.1 metres

Touchdown! The nuthatch has made a successful landing on the fingertip of the outstretched hand. It is critical to note that all of the eight images that you just viewed were captured before I fully depressed the shutter on my OM-D E-M1X. When photographing an incoming bird it is important to time your shutter release to allow the Pro Capture H mode to record the critical frames in temporary memory.

I use Pro Capture H when photographing incoming birds as I want to ensure I get as many unique wing positions as possible. In this mode, my E-M1X uses a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second. The eight photographs you just viewed were all captured in a total of about 0.15 seconds. I waited until the nuthatch had landed on the outstretched hand before I fully depressed the shutter on my Olympus OM-D E-M1X. This locked in the images stored in temporary memory and wrote them to my memory card.

Now, let’s have a look at our second sample run of images. This time we’ll be viewing a blue jay coming in to feed.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

As you can see with this first image, I was in a bit tighter as I wanted to fill the frame more fully when photographing the incoming blue jay.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

Birds like blue jays that are a bit larger, tend to fly at a somewhat slower speed. You can get in tighter to their landing target and still get a reasonable number of key frames. In this case I captured seven key photographs in this image run. All of the images were captured in a total of 0.12 seconds.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

When using the Pro Capture H mode it is important to remember that the first frame of the run locks focus for the balance of the images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

When photographing an incoming bird using this mode, it is critical to choose a shooting angle that allows the bird to land at a 90-degree angle to your camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

Photographing incoming birds that are not parallel to your camera’s sensor can go in and out of focus quickly. This can limit the usability of the images captured during a Pro Capture H run.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

We see a similar body position to the nuthatch. Wings pulled back, legs and digits extended just prior to touchdown.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

I find it quite interesting that, unlike the nuthatch, the blue jay kept its gaze focused on the outstretched hand for its entire approach.

Photographing incoming birds can be a challenge at the best of times. The Pro Capture Mode on Olympus cameras like the OM-D E-M1X make this type of image capture significantly easier. In fact, it makes photographing incoming birds something that can be done at a 100% confidence level when proper technique is utilized. This approach to Pro Capture can be used in other situations such as birds returning to their nest or to a favourite perch.

As a photographer who loves to photograph birds, I cannot imagine owning at least one camera that did not have Pro Capture H capability.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process, and are displayed as 100% captures without any cropping.

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2 thoughts on “Photographing Incoming Birds”

  1. Tom,

    The sequences are an exquisite study of bird motion, action that are too quick and flitting to be noticed. Fascinating stuff!

    Thanks for pointing out some details such as blue jays having slower flying action compared to the smaller nuthatches — observing and noting each bird’s characteristics can really help one in determining whether to zoom in really close or zoom out so as not to clip anything.

    The Oly E-1MX keeps on impressing me. Of course, in your able hands, it becomes such a powerful tool to study nature up close in a thousandth (or two) of a second — which parts of the wing acts as braking flaps or spoilers; when does the bird slow down to prepare for landing; the position and role of tail feathers in landing, etc.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

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