Photographing Woodpeckers with Bird AI

This article discusses photographing woodpeckers with Bird AI, one of the Intelligent Subject Tracking options with the OM-D E-M1X, and shares some images.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 7.7 metres, full frame capture, Bird Detection AI used

Woodpeckers can be difficult subjects to photograph as they tend to keep moving along branches as they search for food. This makes it a challenge to keep focused on their heads/eyes.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, subject distance 8.4 metres, cropped to 4780 pixels on the height, Bird Detection AI used

The E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI makes photographing this particular species significantly easier as it automatically tracks the body, head and eye of birds. The auto-focus area is continually adjusted based on the position of the bird and visibility of its head or eye.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, subject distance 8.4 metres, cropped to 4391 pixels on the height, Bird Detection AI used

Woodpeckers will momentarily pause to check their surroundings. This provides photographers with quick opportunities to capture some images. As the bird looks up and provides a good view of its head and eye, Bird Detection AI immediately shifts its auto-focus to the bird’s eye.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1600, subject distance 7.6 metres, cropped to 3940 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

Rather than having to fiddle around moving auto-focusing points, a photographer can concentrate on composing their image and timing their shutter release.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, subject distance 6.2 metres, cropped to 4372 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

Occasionally a woodpecker will be positioned ‘free and clear’ away from small branches and other obstructions. This makes capturing images easier as long as a photographer can track with the bird as it moves about. Photographing woodpeckers with Bird AI enables more reliable image captures even with these types of photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, subject distance 5.4 metres, cropped to 4681 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

I’ve had modest success photographing woodpeckers in the past, but nothing compares to photographing woodpeckers with Bird AI in terms of the number of keepers I was able to capture.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-2000, subject distance 8.7 metres, full frame capture, Bird Detection AI used

I did some experimentation trying to ‘thread the needle’ when photographing woodpeckers with Bird AI. It did quite a good job ignoring obstructions around a subject bird, and focused in on the head/eye of the woodpecker. There are limitations of course, based on the density of the obstructions. The next three images provide additional samples.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-3200, subject distance 3.3 metres, cropped to 4404 pixels on the height, Bird Detection AI used
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2500, subject distance 3.4 metres, full frame capture, Bird Detection AI used
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2500, subject distance 3.4 metres, cropped to 4539 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

The more I use my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom for bird photography, the more impressed I am with this lens. The added reach, especially when using the M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter, opens up so many more photographic opportunities.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1600, subject distance 3.6 metres, cropped to 4767 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

It is sharp throughout the zoom range and can be shot wide open when fully extended, even with the MC-14, generating excellent results.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 7.8 metres, cropped to 4058 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

Photographing woodpeckers with Bird AI is one of those experiences that caused me to better appreciate the importance of auto-focus performance with perched birds. Far too often we are fixated with auto-focus performance with birds-in-flight and overlook this other important aspect of bird photography.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 391 mm, efov 782 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-3200, subject distance 8.7 metres, cropped to 4426 pixels on the height, Bird Detection AI used

The image above is one of my favourites from my visit to Hendrie Valley on that particular day. You can see that I was shooting past obstructions in the foreground… but what really makes this image is the catch light in the eye of the woodpecker.  Acquiring excellent focus on a bird’s eye is what the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI does in spades.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted where appropriate.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-800, subject distance 6.8 metres, full frame capture, Bird Detection AI used

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6 thoughts on “Photographing Woodpeckers with Bird AI”

  1. Hi Thomas, I always is a delight to read your posts and wonder how you are shooting with such a long rifle (referring to Bifs).
    By the way, where do you find the subject distance information ? Darktable, that I don’t use anymore, shows it, so must be in the exif but the h… if I know where
    Look forward to seeing your work
    Regards
    Vic

    1. Hi Vic,

      I’m glad you have been enjoying the articles!

      I use Windows Explorer to store all of my photography files. After I finish processing a file I right click on it while in Windows Explorer which opens up a small menu. I then left click on ‘Properties’, then left click on ‘Details’. The subject distance information is shown under the camera data.

      Tom

      1. Hello Thomas,
        thanks for reverting so quick with clue and feeling confused to hear it was so simple, once you knew it …

        Vic

        1. Hi Vic,

          I’m sure that there are all kinds of things that are possible with the software that each of us uses of which we are unaware. Not all camera gear estimates the distance to subject.

          Tom

      2. I wonder if you have something else installed on your PC that allows Explorer to have access to that info? On my PC there is a Subject Distance field, but it is always blank. If I look at the same image in EXIFTOOL then the focus distance is shown there.

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