This article, Tracking with Terns, shares a selection of action photographs of terns in flight in a variety of poses. Terns are quite common birds and happen to be one of my favourite subjects during the spring/summer birding season in Southern Ontario.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Terns exhibit a range of flying behaviours and as such are great practice subjects to develop handheld skills for birds-in-flight photography. It’s always fun to capture a tern in flight with some catch light in its eye.
When fishing terns tend to fly in predictable patterns over water looking for fish below. When tracking with terns, watching the bird’s tail feathers is a telltale sign that something may be about to happen. When they spread, the bird is slowing down its flight speed. This may indicate a pending dive.
If Mother Nature is being especially kind, we may have the opportunity to capture some photographs of a tern hovering above its potential meal.
As the bird commits to its dive it often will turn abruptly with its gaze firmly locked on the target fish.
To gain speed for its dive terns will pull their wings in tighter to their bodies. If they need to adjust their angle of entry a quick wing extension can occur. To avoid wing injury terns bring their wings back in before hitting the surface of the water.
Capturing a tern in its mid-air dive can yield some very interesting images.
My favourite perspective when a tern is diving is a profile view, rather than a belly view, as its head and eye are more visible.
Many photographers like to capture images of terns just as they are about to break the surface of the water, or as they create a splash upon entry.
My preferred photographs when I’m tracking with terns is to capture them just as they are exiting the water… hopefully with a fish in their beak.
Even unsuccessful fishing dives can yield dramatic photographs as a tern emerges from the water.
I’ve been using the E-M1X for 2 years… and the introduction of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking has been a fantastic addition. This is the technology that I use for almost all of my bird photography. The only time I do not use Bird Detection AI is when I’m shooting with Pro Capture H at 60 frames-per-second.
For birds-in-flight I almost always use Bird Detectiona AI Subject Tracking in combination with Pro Capture L. Terns can be somewhat erratic in flight. I find that using this combination allows me to confidently capture action photographs that were much more difficult in the past.
Tracking with terns using Pro Capture L allows me to record photographs in temporary memory, and write them to my memory cards only if I observe specific action behaviour… like the terns in the images above and immediately below, skim feeding.
The combination of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking and Pro Capture L has been very effective when I’ve been tracking with terns, and waiting for them to do mid-air shakes. These mid-air movements typically occur a few seconds after a tern has taken flight after a dive.
During my limited photography sessions in May 2021, I’ve been able to regularly and confidently capture multiple examples of tern mid-air shake behaviour.
In fact, in May of this year I’ve been able to capture more images of tern mid-air shakes, than I have previously been able to do during the last 7 years in total. Let’s have a look at a few.
Tracking with terns is a great way to practice handheld technique for birds-in-flight.
Not only that, tracking with terns can lead to many interesting photographs of these acrobatic birds.
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 noted. This is the 1,030th article published on this website since its original inception.
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