Technique and Shot Discipline

This article shares some new images of ducks in flight and discusses technique and shot discipline. Unlike many of my photography field sessions that are focused on practicing a specific technique, my recent outing was to practice my shot discipline. This type of practice session always yields significantly more keepers than I can possibly use, and I ended up deleting many hundreds of perfectly useable files.

In a previous article handheld shot discipline was discussed so I won’t go over all of those points here.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 483 mm, efov 966 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4530 pixels on the width, subject distance 31.3 metres

Importance of technique.

Regardless of the sensor format, make and model of the camera that we may own, practicing various techniques on a regular basis are fundamental to skills development and retention.

In terms of bird-in-flight techniques we may practice things like our  eye/hand coordination. Using various auto-focusing modes. Panning with subject birds. In-flight composition. And, shutter release timing to name a few.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, 1/1600, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3408 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.3 metres

Our cameras may have unique technologies that require the development of additional techniques in order to fully realize the potential of our camera gear.

Being brutally honest with ourselves about our relative skill levels is the first step to self-improvement. Doing a self-assessment of our skills as they relate to a specific photographic genre or situation can be instructive.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 321 mm, efov 642 mm, f/8.6, 1/1600, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3285 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.4 metres

Breaking down techniques into specific actions.

Back in my corporate days I was periodically involved with quality improvement programs. A fundamental quality program exercise was to document the precise process for an activity through process mapping.

For example, one of my clients had me work on documenting the process when a customer ordered a replacement part and all of the actions that happened from the initial phone call or counter visit, until the customer received their part. On the surface this looked pretty simple.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 359 mm, efov 718 mm, f/8.7, 1/2000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4553 pixels on the width, subject distance 23.9 metres

One of the basic steps we investigated was an employee looking up  the part on the computer to check for machine compatibility, part availability and pricing. Simple enough right? When we process mapped that activity in detail we discovered that it took almost a dozen mouse and/or keyboard actions to investigate a single part.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 464 mm, efov 928 mm, f/8.9, 1/2500, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4434 pixels on the width, subject distance 20.4 metres

We added up the number of retail outlets. The number of parts employees assisting customers spread over 5/24 hours of operation, plus weekend shifts. And, the average number of parts look ups each employee was doing per hour. The amount of time spent on “looking up a part on the computer” was staggering. Suffice to say we spent some time to streamline the process to reduce cycle times and help increase efficiency.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 321 mm, efov 642 mm, f/8.6, 1/1600, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4080 pixels on the width, subject distance 23.3 metres

When it comes to practicing one of our photographic techniques we can apply this same type of process thinking. Think about ‘panning with a bird-in-flight’. What exactly does that mean for you?

How you define ‘panning with a bird-in-flight’ may include some of the actions listed below.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 413 mm, efov 826 mm, f/8.8, 1/2000, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3974 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.7 metres
  • Assessing the environment in terms of lighting and wind direction.
  • Watching birds and their common flight patterns when they arrive and leave the area.
  • Adjusting camera settings based on the species that are likely to be photographed e.g. faster shutter speeds for smaller birds, or using exposure compensation for white or dark birds.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/1600, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4232 pixels on the width, subject distance 12.2 metres
  • Adjusting auto-focusing method or settings.
  • Determining the approximate distance and location where you intend to locate birds and initially get them in your viewfinder.
  • Adjusting ISO values if Auto-ISO is not used.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, 1/2500, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4314 pixels on the width, subject distance 20.6 metres
  • Determining the physical ‘start position’ of your camera. Waist level? Mid-chest? On a tripod? Resting on your lap if you are seated on a stool?
  • What focal length will you be using? Will you be shooting fully extended because the birds are quite distant? Or will you start your panning with a wider angle then zoom in tighter once you have the bird in your viewfinder?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 334 mm, efov 668 mm, f/8.6, 1/2000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3456 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.8 metres
  • Will you be pre-focusing your lens in advance of panning with a bird? If so, what spot will you be using and approximately how far away is it?
  • Does your camera and/or lens have focus limiter settings? What adjustments, if any, are you planning to make when you spot a target bird?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/2000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4388 pixels on the width, subject distance 19.3 metres
  • What AF approach will you use to acquire focus on the incoming bird? Does your camera perform better in one mode than others? Do you need to adjust the auto focus mode by bird species or by the photographic scenario?
  • Will you be standing or sitting while panning? Will you be using a tripod? If so, what mobility restrictions are you anticipating? How will these factors affect your choice of incoming bird?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 334 mm, efov 668 mm, f/8.6, 1/2000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3645 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.6 metres
  • Do you lock AF on a bird-in-flight one time, or do you reacquire focus multiple times during a bird’s approach?
  • Do you adjust your camera’s frame rate, or use pulse shooting to help ensure a variety of wing and body positions?
  • What approach do you use to manage your camera’s buffer efficiently?
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, 1/2000, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3921 pixels on the width, subject distance 20.2 metres

No doubt you can add to the list based on your specific technique and shooting preferences. The key is that we need to understand the process variables and assess how each of them affects our individual ‘panning with birds’ effectiveness. We can then fine tune our approach, and work on parts of our process that are causing us some challenges.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 464 mm, efov 928 mm, f/8.9, 1/2000, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4349 pixels on the width, subject distance 26.8 metres

The emotional aspects of shot discipline

There is a lot of information on the internet about factors that are associated with shot discipline. Many of these are covered in my earlier article. There are a couple of factors that are sometimes overlooked… emotional self-control and setting photographic parameters in advance.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 195 mm, efov 390 mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4577 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.6 metres

As photographers our emotions can run amuck when get excited, or when not much is happening and we get bored. Either of these emotional states can take us off our game, and lead to us capturing images that are outside of our usability parameters.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3904 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.8 metres

I have been guilty of photographing birds that are simply far too distant to yield a useable image. In the heat of the moment… or when boredom sets in my shot discipline can suffer.

During my most recent outing I wanted to start practicing  my shot discipline again in earnest. I need to start preparing for the opportunities that arise when the spring bird migration happens.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/8.3, 1/2000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4563 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.7 metres

So I set some specific shot discipline parameters for myself.

  • I would only use my preferred bird-in-flight setting, i.e. Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking in combination with Pro Capture L.
  • My goal was to photograph birds that filled at least 50% of the width of my viewfinder, but I would try to avoid clipping the birds’ wings and bodies.
  • I would shoot in quick Pro Capture L bursts of 10 Pre-Shutter images only, and not hold down my shutter release for extended image runs. This parameter was designed to help me reduce the number of unnecessary duplicate images in terms of wing/body positions.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3249 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.6 metres
  • My approach was to use a shorter focal length to allow for faster subject pick up in my viewfinder, then zoom in on the bird as needed.
  • I would let Bird Detection AI and Pro Capture L technologies do much of the work for me. This meant ensuring that I waited for a green subject box to appear on the subject bird when I half-depressed my shutter release, and hear an audible beep when auto focus was achieved, before fully depressing my shutter release.
  • I would avoid the temptation of quick ‘turn and fire’ image capture attempts (of which I am often guilty) and concentrate on taking a calm and very disciplined approach. This led to me being more discerning when selecting subject birds.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 334 mm, efov 668 mm, f/8.6, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-500,, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3468 pixels on the width, subject distance 27.8 metres
  • I identified an approximate distance on the harbour ice pack that I would use as the beginning of my bird tracking range.
  • Once I identified a subject bird I would pan with it, and allow it to fly closer in to me before I fully depressed my shutter release. In essence I wanted to practice allowing the photographic opportunity to come to me, rather than me trying to chase after it. I find that this helps me keep a calm and disciplined approach.
  • I did not allow myself to look at any of my image captures until I returned home. This was done to help ensure that I would stay completely focused on the photographic opportunities at hand.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 334 mm, efov 668 mm, f/8.6, 1/2000, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3945 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

As mentioned earlier practicing my shot discipline was very effective. I ended up with a glut of useable images. I did a quick run through of my files and selected about a hundred or so that I considered as my top picks for processing.

For the balance of my photographs I quickly checked image sharpness on one or two images from a run, made a mental note, then deleted the entire run if I decided that I really didn’t need to keep it.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/8.6, 1/2500, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3978 pixels on the width, subject distance 19.5 metres

My plan is to practice my shot discipline at least once a week for then next couple of months. Much of this practice will be with common birds-in-flight. I’ll also hone my shot discipline with Pro Capture H.

For us to get the most out of our camera gear it is important to spend time with our technique and shot discipline.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 235 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.3, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3757 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.3 metres

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 indicated. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,133 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/2500, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3285 pixels on the width, subject distance 19.7 metres

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OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/2500, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4420 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.9 metres

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2 thoughts on “Technique and Shot Discipline”

  1. Hi Thomas,

    No doubt, I’m jealous, again . . .

    your ducks literally now jump out of my screen and couak all around my living room.

    what a nice and inspiring set !
    thank you Sir

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