This article discusses how the challenge of photographing small birds-in-flight can be made easy by a combination of technology and technique. All of the photographs featured in this article were captured handheld using an Olympus OM-D E-M1X with its Pro Capture H mode.
I started my morning yesterday at the Urquhart Butterfly Garden in Hamilton Ontario, hoping to capture some images of hummingbirds as well as some butterflies. Unfortunately my intended subjects did not cooperate.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Before leaving Urquhart Butterfly Garden I did manage to capture some nice images of a sparrow in flight.
I noticed the sparrow in some dense foliage and managed to place a single autofocus point on its head. Wanting to capture the bird in flight in the centre of my frame, I positioned the sparrow on the right hand side of my composition. After waiting for the bird to take flight, I fully depressed my shutter release after it exited the left side of my composition. This locked in the photographs stored in temporary memory.
Using the Pro Capture H mode in this manner is one of the easiest ways of photographing small birds-in-flight.
Deciding to move on, I packed up my gear and took the 10 minute drive over to the trails at Hendrie Valley.
It was a quiet morning at Hendrie with no large birds like herons, osprey or egrets in the vicinity. So, I decided to concentrate on photographing small birds in flight with Pro Capture H. The photographs above and below utilized the same composition technique as used with the images captured at Urquhart Butterfly Garden.
Anticipating the flight direction of a bird is a key factor when photographing small birds-in-flight.
The sparrow in the photograph above was perched in dark shade. I could tell by its body position and the angle of its head that it was intending to fly upward and through some patches of sunlight in the leaf canopy. After it launched into flight, then exited my composition, I fully depressed by shutter release and captured my anticipated photograph.
Photographing small birds-in-flight can be challenging as they often make quick, short flights in and around branches. This can make shutter release timing difficult.
When using Pro Capture H, a photographer can wait for the desired bird behaviour to occur before fully depressing the shutter release on their camera. This makes photographing small birds-in-flight much easier and more predictable, especially for quick interbranch flights.
The female cardinal in the photograph above lauched into flight directly towards me. Knowing that the bird would fly out of focus quickly, I fully depressed my shutter release much faster than I normally would.
Photographing small birds-in-flight can also yield some interesting images of birds launching themselves from branches while their wings are not yet extended.
When using Pro Capture H I always set my E-M1X to the maximum of 60 frames-per-second. This helps ensure that I get a number of potentially usable images from each Pro Capture H image run.
Photographing small birds-in-flight when they are in heavy foliage is very simply done when using Pro Capture H.
The resulting images can have a more natural feel to them.
Choosing subject birds that are positioned against an unobstructed background can help bring some emphasis to the bird’s body and wing position as we can see in the following three photographs.
While I don’t typically like to photograph birds-in-flight that are approaching me head-on, if a dark bird is flying into the sun and towards me, it can help bring out feather details.
As we can see in the photograph below, it can also be beneficial to capture some good light on the back and wings of dark birds as this can help reveal more details. Watching birds move about on their favourite trees can give a photographer a good idea of their typical movement patterns.
The image above was captured after I noticed that a number of red winged blackbirds were using the same branches as perches. They would often fly upward and bank into the sun as they moved to other branches. I waited for a bird to perch on a thick branch that appeared to be a common launching point. After it took flight I fully depressed my shutter release which produced the photograph above.
Sometimes it is apparent that a small bird will be flying on an angle away from my camera. In these situations I will often get in as tight as possible to capture extended wing positions before the bird flies out of focus.
All of the images that you have viewed thus far were all captured in less than 2 hours on the same morning.
The final image in this article was captured in my backyard later that afternoon. Using Pro Capture H can make photographing small birds-in-flight an enjoyable experience even when we are in our own backyard or photographing very common small birds.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Photographs were cropped to taste, then resized for web use.
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