As a brief follow up to my Photographing Tundra Swans with Tamron 150-600 article, this piece features a small selection of bird-in-flight images taken along the Niagara River with a Nikon 1 V2 with the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens.
It is important that I state up front that I really struggled deciding to even write this article as the image quality is not up to the standard that I prefer to show to readers. Unfortunately trying to shoot white birds on greyish backgrounds accentuated the Nikon 1 system weaknesses and the lack of dynamic range is very apparent. I finally decided that since the images represent what can be expected under these particular shooting conditions that the images (hopefully) would still be of value to readers. As I stated in my review of the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 lens shooting birds in flight can be a challenge with the Nikon 1 system. People buying a super telephoto lens with the express intent of shooting primarily birds-in-flight are likely to be better served by using a DSLR combination.
Let’s get back to our main topic…
Even though ice breakers patrol this section of the Niagara River and keep the centre ice free, the shoreline does have quite a bit of ice in a number of areas. This makes capturing images more difficult as the ice tends to force the birds to fly further out over the river. This meant that for many individual subject captures I was shooting at a distance of about 150m (490 feet). As a result I needed to crop some of the images aggressively even though I was shooting with an equivalent field of view of 810mm with my Nikon 1 V2 and Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm lens. I apologize in advance that some of the images have suffered as a result.
To maintain personal safety when visiting the Niagara River area during the winter, when the river banks are snow covered, I would strongly advise readers to stay in the designated parking areas or to not venture too far from the paved road. The river banks can be quite steep in areas and the river has a strong current. Venturing too close to the edge could result in you slipping into the river with deadly consequences.
For the best lighting I would recommend doing most of your shooting from noon onward as the sun will be at your back. Arriving in the morning will allow you to scout the river and plan your shots. There are a few small creeks that drain into the Niagara River. These creeks have small, stone bridges which can be ideal places from which to take photographs as they can help hide you from the birds and also provide good panning angles.
In a few areas along the river you will find large flocks of ducks reasonably close to shore. These birds can be very skittish and they will often take flight as you approach on foot. If you are not prepared it can be quite frustrating when you end up missing shots. A good strategy is to get your camera ready, pre-focus on that portion of the river, and anticipate that the flock will take flight as you approach. If you do this you should get some nice images of formations of ducks in flight. Canvasbacks appear to be the most common species.
You will also find a good number of Canada geese on the river. On occasion you can get images of them approaching you in-flight as they tend to fly across the river more than the other species. Most of the waterfowl tend to fly and land parallel to the river so it is an ideal location to practice your panning technique even though you may not get many images suitable for enlargement purposes because of the distance away from the birds.
The viewfinder of my Nikon 1 V2 is much darker and not nearly as detailed as with my D800 which made it more difficult locating the birds. Owners of Nikon 1 V-series cameras will already be aware that there is some lag time as the image transfers from the rear screen to the viewfinder. If you’re not careful this can cause missed shots. To avoid this I recommend keeping your thumb over the viewfinder sensor so the image stays in the viewfinder and eliminates image-transfer time. It can also help extend your battery life when shooting.
The Nikon 1 V2 has limited dynamic range and I played around with settings quite a bit. I ended up shooting primarily in AF-C using single point AF. I did both single frame and 15fps burst shooting and found that the Nikon 1 set-up performed quite well in terms of focusing as long as I had sufficient time to properly frame my shots. Matrix metering tended to yield better results than centre-weighted or spot. I shot in Aperture priority at f/5.6 to avoid the effects of diffraction on the Nikon 1 V2’s small CX sensor. I also kept my ISO settings low at ISO-160 and ISO-400 to try to hold on to as much dynamic range as possible. I found that the V2 did struggle retaining highlights.
As noted earlier, the birds tend to fly and land parallel to the river. Anticipating flight paths and adjusting your focus point accordingly can help use more of your camera’s sensor and help produce nicely framed images. This is useful when photographing groups of birds where you’ll want to focus on the lead bird.
The winter is the best season to visit the Niagara River to get images of birds in flight as it has a healthy congregation of birds during this time period. At other times of the year the population of birds is sporadic at best.
To view additional Niagara River bird images taken with both the Nikon 1 V2/CX 70-300 and Nikon D800/Tamron 150-600 combinations click on the YouTube video link.
For more information about shooting birds in flight on the Niagara River you can also click on this article link. Please be advised that many of the images in this linked article were aggressively cropped and as a result quality has been affected.
Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaption allowed without written consent.