People who enjoy bird photography can attest to the fact that patience is a virtue when it comes to capturing images of birds-in-flight. We simply never know when nature will present photo opportunities. As a result we need to keep aware of our surroundings, and our finger on the shutter release! During the past couple of months I’ve been out doing some field work for an upcoming eBook about hand-held bird photography.
This article shares a selection of 12 images of Great Blue Herons in flight. All of these photographs were captured on the same day (August 14, 2018), at various times of the day, at the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary. Some images worked better than others of course. The objective of the article is simply to illustrate that patience and putting in time at a location is required when photographing birds-in-flight.
Many of the Great Blue Herons that frequent the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary are out fairly early in the morning. With my small sensor camera gear it can be a challenge for me to get useable images when shooting in early morning hours. The image above was captured at 7:22 AM at ISO-2800.
The heron in the above image was quite close to the road at the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary which enabled me to frame the bird using a shorter focal length. I’ve been shooting at 60 frames-per-second regularly during the last few months. I had to wait for about 15 minutes before this heron took flight at 7:43 AM. As soon as the bird flexed its legs in preparation to take off I pressed my shutter release and quickly filled the buffer on my Nikon 1 V3.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been regularly using a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second with my Nikon 1 V2 and V3 cameras when capturing images of birds-in-flight, most often when they are taking off or landing. This allows me to get very precise motion captures as seen in the photograph above which was captured at 9:34 AM. Since my V2 and V3 bodies have a 40-shot buffer it fills in only 2/3 of a second when using this very fast frame rate. As a result, shutter release timing is critical.
Like most nature settings, various birds will come and go and there are often lulls in the action. Some photographers are focused on a particular species of bird and they will simply wait until that type of bird reappears. I change my focus and will photograph whatever opportunities Mother Nature presents. The image above was captured at 12:12 PM.
As we photograph a particular species of bird regularly, we begin to understand some of its behaviours which can be very helpful when anticipating image opportunities. The heron above had been fishing briefly in some shallow water next to the burm. It wasn’t having much luck and with a couple of wing beats rose up out of the water and landed on the top of the burm at 12:22 PM. From there it was able to gingerly walk across the burm so it could fish from the other side.
I recently added a second 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 lens to my kit. I now regularly go out with a pair of cameras (one V3 and one V2) each fitted with this lens. Since the V2 and V3 have different AF-C frame rates, using a pair of cameras gives me a bit more flexibility. I primarily shoot with a V3 and use the V2 as a back-up when the buffer in my V3 hasn’t cleared and other image opportunity have appeared. The image above was captured with a V2.
When spending a lot of time at one location during the same day, it is important to change your shooting position to take advantage of the available light whenever possible. Obviously one needs to stay proximate to the action, like this heron gliding by at 12:35 PM.
Birds tend to be creatures of habit and as you familiarize yourself with specific locations it becomes easier to anticipate bird behaviour. This Great Blue Heron flew across one of the ponds at the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary at 12:38 PM and landed on the burm that separates it from another smaller pond.
As is sometimes the case, the heron did not stay long on the burm. After poking around for a couple of minutes it turned around and flew back (at 12:41 PM) to perch in some trees from where it had just ventured forth.
As the lighting and wind conditions change during the day, so too do the photographic backgrounds of our images. This photograph was captured at 1:48 in the afternoon when the light is harsher.
To capture as many image opportunities as possible it is important to not only keep an eye on the surface of the water and the shoreline, but also continuously scan the sky. The heron in the above photograph did a quick fly-by at 2:26 PM, up against a clear blue sky.
Not all of our captures will be at the angles we anticipated and sometimes birds, like the heron in the image above, will take off at an unexpected angle. This can limit the number of potentially useable photographs as a bird’s wings will often obstruct the view of its head and eye. This image was captured at 3:03 PM as I was contemplating calling it a day at the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary.
Just as I was preparing to leave the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary I spotted another Great Blue Heron flying low along the creek bed. The heron was flying directly at me, and hoping that the bird would bank into the sun, I held off on my AF-C run. The photograph above was one of the last ones I captured that day at 3:06 PM. Since I had been at Hendrie Valley since 7 AM without taking a break for lunch, I figured it was time to leave and grab a bite to eat.
All 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 my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
Article and all images Copyright 2018 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, adaptation or reproduction of any kind is allowed without written permission. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else, it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments pointing out Copyright infringements on offending websites that steal intellectual content is always appreciated!