Many bird photographers enjoy photographing terns. These quick, small birds can be a challenge to photograph, especially if one focuses on them fishing. Terns can also be quite aerobatic in their flight patterns. This can also yield some interesting images. Watching tern tail feathers can signal potential aerobatic flight moves or fishing behaviour.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
First, let’s have a look at a pretty common photograph that we may capture of a tern in flight’
As you look at this image, notice how the tern’s tail feathers are tucked in together. This is a clear signal that the tern is doing some aerial surveillance, and that nothing of interest has caught its eye.
In the image above, the tern has spread its tail feathers as it is slowing down its air speed. Often times these spread tail feathers will be quickly tucked back in if the tern changes its mind.
If nothing else, the spread tail feathers make for a more interesting photograph.
Tail feathers that are spread also give the tern additional in-flight maneuverability. This can signal turns, upcoming fishing dives, or mid-air hovering. All of these flight moves can create interesting photographs.
When tracking terns in-flight, I typically wait until I see a bird spread its tail feathers before I fire off any kind of AF-C run. Most times it is a very short burst of just a few images. If I am fortunate enough to capture a tern hovering, diving or doing a sharp turn, I’ll hold my AF-C run longer.
I find capturing photographs of terns in-flight with unusual wing positions to be every bit as dramatic as those of terns diving and fishing.
Whether you like to focus your tern photography on them diving, fishing or flying… watching tern tail feathers can help improve your results. It can also help yield more usable images in a shorter length of time. All of the photographs in this article were captured yesterday morning within a 5 minute time frame.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using camera gear noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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