This articles features a selection of photographs of a warbler in flight captured handheld at Hendrie Valley. The posting also discusses the technique used. All of the images have been severely cropped which is understandable given the size of the warblers and my shooting distance from them. Warblers are about 10-18 cm (~4 to 7 inches) in length. In terms of shooting distance I was about 9 to 23 metres (~30 to 75 feet) away from the birds. The severity of the crops has affected image quality.
I used Pro Capture H at 60 frames-per-second, with a single AF point. My Pre Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter were both set to 15. Each of the following images has additional EXIF data supplied.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Folks who photograph warblers can attest to the fact that these little birds tend to be quite skittish and very seldom stay still for any amount of time. Often it’s like trying to photograph a pinball in motion. They constantly leap from one branch to another so it is quite challenging to try to anticipate when a particular bird may actually be taking flight of just leaping to another twig. As a result many of the photographs I captured were of mid-air leaps as shown above.
Warblers often position themselves in amongst small twigs and branches making it very difficult to get a clear view of the birds. I often had to acquire focus on whatever part of the warbler was visible to lock in my Pro Capture H run. Sometimes the best I could do was the warbler’s side, back or tail as its head was not visible.
The five consecutive photographs that follow illustrate that usable images can still be created in obstructed conditions. Personally I find this type of situation adds a lot of context to photographs.
In the case of the warbler illustrated in the previous five image, it very quickly did a mid-air belly roll and dove straight down out of my frame.
Trying to anticipate the flight path of a warbler in flight is a challenge as the birds can be erratic flyers.
The warbler in flight in the above photograph surprised me by launching itself downward at about a 45 degree angle. It then arched up slightly, flying parallel with the bottom of my frame. The warbler came so close to exiting my frame that the subsequent crops were extremely severe as you can see in the following two photographs.
When using Pro Capture H the first frame locks auto-focus and exposure for the balance of the run. This means that it can be somewhat pointless trying to photograph a small, fast bird flying directing towards your shooting position, as it quickly flies out of focus. This is illustrated in the image that follows.
I was able to capture a few Pro Capture H image runs where the warbler launched from an unobstructed position. One of which was with a warbler fully exposed on the tip of a branch. This doesn’t often happen as the birds are quite vulnerable in that situation.
The next two sets of seven consecutive images illustrate the kind of images that can be captured under unobstructed conditions.
As you review the EXIF data in the warbler in-flight images in this article you’ll notice that I adjusted my camera settings quite a bit during the hour and forty minutes that it took me to capture all of these photographs. I started off in the early morning and used my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom without a teleconverter. As the lighting improved I added the M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter.
My shutter speeds varied from a low of 1/2500 to 1/5000 as I was trying to limit wing blur with faster shutter speeds… while still being aware of my ISO values. Here is our second set of seven consecutive images captured under unobstructed conditions.
Capturing a warbler in flight in an unobstructed manner makes things quite a bit easier and produces photographs where the bird is ‘king’. The trade off is that some environmental context is lost.
Let’s have a look at two more Pro Capture H image runs. In both cases more of the warbler’s environment is included in the background. Some photographers prefer this approach as it better integrates the warbler in flight with its surroundings.
Using Pro Capture H was absolutely key in capturing all of the photographs in this article… but Pro Capture H alone is not enough. If you check the EXIF data you’ll see that all of the photographs were captured with my lens fully extended to an equivalent field-of-view of either 800 mm or 1120 mm. When photographing small, fast birds like warblers there is no time to hunt for a bird in your viewfinder. Eye/hand coordination and muscle memory need to take charge in these types of shooting conditions.
Some readers may have been wondering why I spend so much time on an ongoing basis practicing photographing birds with long telephoto focal lengths, and with teleconverters. These warbler in flight photographs are the reason why. Each of us need to develop our physical skills in order to maximize the performance of our camera gear… regardless of what we may happen to own.
Let’s have a look at our second set of Pro Capture H images of a warbler in flight with more of its environment included in the composition.
You’ll notice that I changed the cropping with the last two photographs to a vertical orientation in the image run above. I did this to allow a good amount of the bird’s surroundings to be visible even though the warbler was approaching the right hand edge of my composition.
Our final image is my favourite one from this photo session. The warbler in this photograph was almost totally hidden from view behind a branch. I noticed it looking upward as its head popped in and out of view.
All I could do was focus on the bird’s tail feathers and frame my composition with the assumption that the warbler would be flying upwards to a higher branch in the tree. This image below is the only one from the entire 15 frame Pro Capture H run that was useable as the warbler’s head was obstructed in all of the other 14 images. I should mention that I panned upwards as the warbler was taking flight, and as my shutter release was half depressed and storing images in temporary memory.
When using Pro Capture H it is important to anticipate the photograph you are trying to capture. This allows you to set up the parameters of your shot in advance in terms of the direction of the subject bird’s movement and your composition.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,164 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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