No matter how much planning is done, depending on the photography genre weather can often be an issue – and sometimes you need the cooperation of a much higher power – Mother Nature!
I had the pleasure of working with a client on a range of photography topics for a day and a half this week. His biggest interest was bird photography, with birds-in-flight being his number one priority. After finalizing a tight itinerary it really came down to whether birds would show up during the very limited times we had when visiting various venues. And, even if the birds were there the big question was whether they’d actually take flight for us. During the day and a half we had about 4 hours initially planned for birds-in-flight photography. We crossed our fingers hoping that Mother Nature would be cooperative.
With the cormorants still in their nesting stage that was a bit of a no-brainer from a planning standpoint. Early the first morning under overcast conditions we had plenty of opportunities to practice birds in flight at Eastport Drive in Hamilton. The dreary conditions were not very conducive to getting many keepers though.
And gulls – well they’re ubiquitous and somewhat uninspiring – but good as practice subjects. We didn’t bother with them the first morning.
One of our best capture opportunities was one of those unexpected gems. As we were photographing (you guessed it) a few gulls for some practice quite late in the afternoon on the first day, a couple of geese took flight from across the narrow harbor and headed straight at us, one chasing the other. The pursuit was so intense that they weren’t paying that much attention to what was in front of them and the pair ended up missing us by 8 to 10 feet to our left, rocketing past us at chest height. The image above is a full frame capture from a long AF-C run. It’s not cropped on the width at all…so yeah…the geese were really close!
The sly look on this fellow’s face tells it all. We saw a number of ducks – but we were met with a total absence of real cooperation from them – with only a few, sporadic fly-bys. All of which were far too high up to be of any real potential.
Our mid-morning visit to Hendrie Valley on the first day proved fruitful. We had a few good opportunities to capture low flying geese with some individuals giving us nice displays of their water landing technique as you can see in the following image.
Mother Nature sent us a few other special gifts. The first was a Great Blue Heron that landed in one of the shallow ponds at Hendrie Valley and stayed there long enough for us to move physically in order to get in a good image capturing position before it decided to take flight. A decent AF-C run yielded the image below.
Sometimes altering plans can prove beneficial. After deciding to forgo some planned work on flower photography on the morning of the second day we headed off to the Niagara Gorge to hopefully capture some images of Turkey Vultures soaring. We ended up with a ton of good fly-bys with some of the birds flying quite low and parallel to us in the gorge. Rather than the typical high-up belly shots of Turkey Vultures that resemble black blobs in the sky we were treated to some opportunities to capture nice, bright lighting on their backs and wings, revealing a good amount of feather detail.
Mother Nature’s blessings continued with the arrival of a raptor that made a series of fly-bys. Some of them were so close to us that they yielded the next uncropped image.
The bright morning sun gave us plenty of light and the raptor cooperated with a number of nice wing displays before it was harassed by a crow and flew off.
Good planning is always important when considering photography coaching, but getting a helping hand from Mother Nature can make the difference between a good day and a great one!
Technical Note: All images were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 V2 and a 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. All images in this article were processed from RAW files using my standard workflow of DxO OpticsPro 10 Elite, CS6, and Nik Suite.
Article and all images Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. No use, adaptation, or reproduction of any kind is allowed without express, written permission. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.
Wow. Just wow. My 70-300 (number 3) should arrive today and after reading this blog I am super excited. BTW, 70-300 #1 was sold last summer when I thought the MFT was the way to go. 70-300 #2 was for my wife who loves it. So, now I’m pretty firmly back in the N1 camp so I had to replace my V3 and 70-300. Good times coming.
Maybe I missed it, but I saw that you were using AF-C, but which AF area? Spot or tracking?
Great blog, Tom, and I’m just getting started!
Thanks for your generous comment – most appreciated! I’m glad to hear that you are having fun and excited about your photography adventures ahead!
For birds-in-flight I almost always shoot using AF-C with subject tracking.
Great Photos and Great Article. I love article on Photographylife.com since it has very specific text and lot of photographs.
I have two points to mention
I was amazed to see what the lens 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 can produce. I was thinking of buying one, but I though it is a compromise buy since I don’t want to spend more. But now I am very delighted to buy one such lens and I own an APS-C camera. Thus thanks for that.
Great when mother nature cooperates. But what if she is angry with us or want to punish us or wants to be sarcastic with us. I mean when light becomes bad, it rains unexpectedly or the behavior of natural elements is not what we need. How we turn the bad mood of nature into blessing. Can we get unexpected images if nature is behaving unexpectedly. Have you ever came across any such situation and have you got something which you did not expected. Can you share that with us.
Great Article and Great Images.
Thanks for the positive comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the images and article! As a point of clarification, all of the images in this article were taken with the 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6. This lens will not work with an APS-C or full frame Nikon camera.
Thomas, VR on or off on the 70-300?
For higher shutter speeds typically VR is off. My brain in old and porous and I do forget from time to time…lol.
Thomas…I’m trying to understand ISO. I notice in your photographs, that even though you said you had good light you bumped up the ISO. In the third photograph, it was bumped up to 1400. Can you explain your thinking on that? I really want to understand this since I keep reading that the higher the ISO, the more possible “noise.” Your photograph looks great to me. Thanks!
What likely happened was I was using Manual settings with Auto-ISO to get good exposures against a bright sky and I wasn’t expecting birds down low against darker backgrounds. When the opportunity to capture some fast breaking images happened I just took them with whatever Manual settings I had dialed in at the time as I didn’t have time to reset them. This would have led to higher than normal ISO’s being selected by the camera when Auto-ISO is used.
Thanks Thomas! Totally get that (which means I really am learning and retaining these things! :o). I also looked up an article on the site called “A Beginner’s Guide To ISO by Nasim and printed it out. Great content on this site. Thank you so much.
Always a pleasure to try to help a reader Linda!
I am sorry, I thought I was giving feedback to PhotographyLife in general. Thank you for giving the info about the reviewers and I looked them up and very well indeed. Your captures are awesome and for me to get anything even as good would be a miracle. Not familiar (right now) with using a super telephoto I was figuring out things when I learned that lower end Canon and Nikon cameras have a f/8 limit with AF and was just passing the word that the A7s does not have that limit. I am awe struck when watching big lenses in action and their results like your images so crip and clear but I do see some soft stuff alot but have learned it is the focus point and f/stop selected (or obtainable).
It is early after Sigma made a mount adapter for Sony FE cameras but it is hard to find review of this lens and the Sony cameras and just thought of PhotographyLife (it is so informative) and all of it’s great Photographers that one would do such a review and this is the first operatunity that Sony users have at a Super Telephoto lens of any kind and getting out to 1800mm with AF and OS what more can one ask.
There’s no need to ever apologize when asking a question or posting a comment here on Photography Life or on my blog! We encourage our readers to engage with us!
As always brilliant. A famous golfer once said: “The more I practise, the luckier I get”. Obviously this applies to you as well.
Keep up and wish the J5 pics will be forthcoming
Thanks Goran! You will certainly see that a lot more of my images will be taken with the J5 in the future.
One thing I noticed is not being able to get good depth of field with your Nikon, like the duck f/5.6 leaves the back blurry (maybe you want that). Not till I bought a new super telephoto did I learn about the f/8 wall (kinda like the 30″wall) for Nikon and Canon. Just for info My Sony A7s focused and has stable images up to f/40 with the new Sigma Sony FE adapter and with the 1.4x extender 840mm in full frame and 1260mm in APS-C mode (the camera displays 840 max but the images get bigger). IS is greyed out but when you turn on lens OS settings in turns on but still greyed out. I am not a Pro birder or wildlife photographer and this is not an ad. Just thought you might want to review the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 Contemporary/Sport + TC-1401/TC2001 Teleconverter with the MC-11 for Sony A7 series cameras or even the new Sony super fast A6000 (APS-C) giving a total 1260mm and with the 2x teleconverter 1800mm with all focus points and stabilized and with tweaking with the USB dock UD-01 could be as clear as a $12K prime!!!! (but only 500mm) I have no idea but it could be worth a test ummm! You are the only sensor cleaner device (pink) for Sony customers may want to know!
Thanks for adding your comment to the discussion! A while back I did a hands-on review of the Sigma Sport 150-600 using a D800 when I owned full frame gear. I believe that Nasim has done some articles on a number of long telephoto zoom lenses. If my memory serves he has covered both the Sport and Contemporary Sigma 150-600 as well as the Nikon 200-500, and also the Tamron 150-600. My Nikon 1 V2 has a small 1″ CX sensor so I tend to keep my aperture at f/5.6 most of the time to limit the risk of diffraction. I do shoot at f/8 from time to time. I no longer own any cropped sensor or full frame DSLR gear so I’m not really set up to do any reviews of the lenses you mentioned in your comment.
Nice work Thomas !
Great article. With birds, and Mother Nature in general, it’s all about timing and synchronicity, and that’s part of the beauty of it. At least for me that’s how it is! The first shot of the Red-tailed Hawk is cropped beautifully. Well done!
I’m in 100% agreement with your comment about timing and synchronicity. I’d love to take credit for the ‘cropping’ with the image noted in your post – but that was a full frame capture without any cropping done at all.
copyright notice requires year
Thanks for the tip Larry! I will include that in the future.