Winter Swans in Flight

Earlier this week I had the opportunity for a quick visit to LaSalle Park in Burlington Ontario.  I was expecting a good number of swans, ducks and geese to be at the park and I wasn’t disappointed.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

What I wasn’t expecting at all was for there to be so many swans in flight in the area. I can’t remember having as many opportunities for these types of images in such a short time frame during any of my previous visits.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 291mm, efov 786mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

I had a couple of instances when I missed some photographs because my card was still in the process of clearing when more image opportunities presented themselves.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 192mm, efov 518mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-200

Some of the landings done by the various birds were quite comical as they skidded along the surface of the ice.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

It is easy to forget how big the webbed feet are on these large birds until you see them coming in to land, like nature’s jumbo jets.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 168mm, efov 454mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

While most of the birds at LaSalle Park appeared to be trumpeter swans, there were a few mute swans mixed in with them.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, efov 402mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-200

There were so many ducks on the ice that it was a real challenge to capture unobstructed images.

You will notice that in some of the photographs you can see that the trumpeter swans are marked with leg bands and wing tags. These bird markings are done as part of scientific research to track the migratory patterns and populations of the birds. If you see a tagged swan it is important to report the sighting of the bird and your impressions on its health.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 149mm, efov 403mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-200

Trumpeter swans were locally extinct in Ontario due to over hunting, and have been reintroduced to the province over the past 30 years. About 200 trumpeter swans (about 25% of Ontario’s population) winter in the vicinity of the LaSalle Park Marina from November through to late March.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254mm, efov 686mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

The birds did do some fly-overs, fortunately some of them were directly into the sun which helped with the lighting on the birds. There were a number of pairs up flying as well. It took a bit more patience to wait for the birds to be at just the right angle to be able to capture them together, and to fill the frame.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 246mm, efov 664mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-200

There was a mix of adult and juvenile birds at LaSalle Park, adding to the overall experience.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 632mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

I spent about 90 minutes at the park and used my time to practice my hand-holding technique and challenge my Nikon 1 V3 with some AF-C runs while some of the swans were flying directly at me.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-200

The birds at LaSalle Park are quite acclimatized to people and you can get quite close to them. When you’re up ‘close and personal’ to one of these majestic birds you realize how big they are!

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 157mm, efov 424mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-200

I love capturing swans when they have outstretched wings in a dramatic pose. Good, angled light can add some nice contrast and detail to their feathers.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 147mm, efov 397mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400

The above image is one that I captured at the end of January. I added it to provide readers with an opportunity to view a swan’s head as a 100% capture.

Nikon 1 V3 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261mm, efov 705mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200

Technical Note:
All of the photographs in this article were captured hand-held using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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8 thoughts on “Winter Swans in Flight”

  1. Hi Tom
    Impressive pics.
    May I ask you, if using a small sensor such as in the nikon 1 help greatly to avoid camera shake with long lenses ?
    Years ago (2007) I did a trip in Paris using a small sensor Canon G7 camera, and even on a boat taking pics of the Notre-Dame cathedral and thousands of still images in a windy temperature I had none that were blurred by motion.

    1. Hi Luc,

      I do find it much easier to photograph at slower shutter speeds using Nikon 1 gear, but I don’t think sensor size is the main determinant in avoiding motion blur in images. As photographers we need to be aware of our individual capabilities in terms of the shutter speeds we use for hand-held photography. The effectiveness of the vibration reduction/image stabilization of the gear we use also is an important factor. And, making sure that we choose appropriate shutter speeds given conditions and the degree of subject matter is also critical.


  2. Hi Tom,
    This series of images of flying, taking-off and landing swans are just amazing. I am most impressed by the excellent focusing on a particular selected bird that we see in the images 5, 6 and 12, where the background might easily fool the autofocus system. What AF-option have you used for those shots? How many failed shots would you typically encounter under such difficult conditions? Thanks for another beautiful demonstration of the qualities of the Nikon 1 system. Rudolf

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed the images Rudolf – and thank you for your supportive comment!

      All of the images were captured using AF-C (continuous auto-focus) with subject tracking, shooting at 10 frames per second. The three images you noted in your comment were all part of AF-C runs with those individual frames being towards the middle or end of the runs. Under good lighting the Nikon 1 V3 typically does a very good job holding continuous auto-focus.

      As long as I use my Nikon 1 gear properly I seldom get any failed shots due to camera auto-focus issues. While I didn’t get many missed shots, the majority of the ones I did have during my visit were due to me forgetting to turn off the VR, than from auto-focus issues. The birds were in focus…but not properly framed.

      It is a bit different shooting with Nikon 1 gear compared to using a DSLR for this type of subject matter. I make it a habit to pre-focus my lens at the approximate distance at which I anticipate starting to track an approaching bird. This significantly reduces the risk of the lens hunting for focus. I’ve never been a fan of back button focusing (just a matter of preference I suppose) so I typically gently tap my shutter a number of times as I’m tracking an incoming bird, making sure that I’m seeing the ‘green box’ AF confirmation during the tracking taps. Once I have a subject bird framed properly, and in as tight as I want for the shot, I coordinate my shutter release with a ‘green box’ AF confirmation.

      Hope this has helped.


      1. Hi Tom

        Thanks for your detailed and instructive description of your technique. I presume that you use subject tracking in the AF-Area Mode option for shots like the present ones. In any case, these shots demonstrate the efficiency of the AF system in a very impressive way. Too bad, the people at Nikon responsible for marketing have not had enough expertise or interest, to realize how advanced those cameras were already almost 7 years ago and remained at the forefront in this domain until recently 9or even now). Also the non-intermittent live image at very high frame rates in the electronic viewfinder was market leading, a feat that Sony has been claiming to be the first, but many years after Nikon….. Nikon 1 is definitely a system, that was marketed much below its actual merit. Your impressive e-books and articles have proved this again and again.

        Thanks, Rudolf

        1. Hi Rudolf,

          Actually I virtually never use the AF-A auto-select area focusing mode. I shoot all of my still images using AF-S (auto-focus single point) and use AF-C with subject tracking for pretty much anything that is moving. The only time that I can remember using AF-A was doing some experiments when shooting swallows in flight up against a clear blue sky. Other than that I avoid using AF-A completely as I never want my camera to choose the auto-focusing point(s) for an image.

          I agree that the Nikon 1 system is a very capable one. Unfortunately most people focused their attention on sensor size and overlooked so many of the system’s capabilities. Nikon really missed it with their marketing.

          Thank you for your positive comments about our eBooks – they are much appreciated!


  3. Hi Tom,

    Love the series, especially the duets/duos #9 and #10. Again, a showcase of your impeccable technique and skill as well as the capability of the underrated Nikon 1 system.


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