Warbler in Flight

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2827 pixels on the width, subject distance 13.3 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2417 pixels on the width, subject distance 19.4 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2913 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2913 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2916 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3204 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3003 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2607 pixels on the width, subject distance 19 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 1604 pixels on the width, subject distance 19 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 1769 pixels on the width, subject distance 19 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2767 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.7 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2698 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2693 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2694 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2688 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2681 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2683 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2633 pixels on the width, subject distance 23 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2648 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2666 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2691 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2698 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2690 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2688 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2523 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.1 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2729 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2708 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2857 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2719 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2721 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2733 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2704 pixels on the width, subject distance 18.3 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2740 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2738 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2761 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2740 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 1803 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 1593 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.5 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3122 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.9 metres

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.

Technical Note:

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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14 thoughts on “Warbler in Flight”

  1. Your relying on having enough depth of field after focus is that correct?
    Sorry if this is off topic but do you change stabilisation settings for say birds perched,flight etc?

    1. Hi Stephen,

      The amount of depth-of-field in an image will depend on the distance to subject, distance of the background from the subject, aperture and the lens focal length.

      I have the same stabilization settings in all of my Custom Modes. I almost never use the in-lens stabilization of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm.

      Tom

    1. Thanks Jim… glad you enjoyed the images. 🙂 I love Pro Capture!

      Was working on something yesterday that was a bit more challenging than these warblers. Haven’t determined if I captured anything useable yet.

      Tom

  2. Great shots Tom. I shoot a lot of small birds with my 300mm pro and it is always a crap shoot. You just never know where they are going to go and I can’t even zoom to compensate for unexpected movement. I really enjoy that kind of shooting. It reminds me of the time I spent as a goalie taking penalty shots. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best. It is so rewarding when you get a great photograph under those conditions. Just like winning the game with a lucky stop of the ball.

    1. Hi Karen,

      There’s an old saying that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”… so those weren’t ‘lucky’ saves!

      Yeah… little birds can be a challenge… that’s what makes them so much fun! The more I sit quietly and observe them… the more I’m beginning to appreciate that even small birds are creatures of habit. Their patterns of behaviour may not be as obvious as with larger birds… but they do exist.

      I was out at a local wetlands area yesterday observing some swallows that were surface feeding. Some of them were actually hitting the surface causing splashes… almost like a tern. Very interesting behaviour! It took me quite a while to figure out that only a small number of swallows were exhibiting the behaviour, and the same bird would hit the surface of the water multiple times. I did manage some poor quality images that at least documented the behaviour.

      I need to go back to the wetlands for more observation so I can try to figure out an appropriate technique to photograph their behaviour. Swallow season doesn’t last too long in my area so I’ll need to focus.

      Tom

      1. Tom,
        That swallow behaviour is so interesting. What a find. We have cliff swallows that nest on the house and stable, and barn swallows in the barn and run in sheds on the farm but no water on our property (Dunrobin, Ontario). The swallows are lots of fun to try to catch in flight. This will be my second summer with the EM1 mark iii so I hope to step up my game for some swallow action. Thanks for you thoughtful posts. I really enjoy them.

        1. Hi Karen,

          Sometimes it’s crazy how close we can be to nature and not even realize it. The wetlands here in town are only about 5 KM from my home and I didn’t even know it existed until a couple of years ago.

          You may want to try using cluster area with your C-AF setting for swallows in flight. Robin Wong has a good YouTube video that explains this technique.

          Tom

  3. Picture 22, where the warbler drops off the twig, his tiny leg streched out. What a catch. And what a cute bird a warbler is. Thank you .

  4. Great article. Shooting small, active birds like warblers is really difficult. Your narrative gives me new incentive to keep trying. I especially like the images with outstretched wings. Awesome!

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