Stopping time

I thought I had a fast camera and lens until trying to capture images of swallows and swifts in flight.  I think this was the best of 50-60 image attempts.  They sure are in a hurry in the spring time.  Between catching enough food on the wing to keep up their metabolism and finding mates and building nests it’s no wonder they are always zipping by.  They still have enough time to check things out, though.  I turned around once to re-position my camera and caught one of these hovering about 4 feet away, looking me over carefully before wheeling away and moving on.  Guess I was too big to take a bite out of.

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Signs of spring – at last!

May at last and it seems the last snow has just melted.  Somehow it feels as if the seasons and the climate are not in sync.  The trees, birds and flowers all want to start growing while the wind still blows cold and damp.  The height of the sun in the sky will hopefully re-connect the two and everything can get on with another year of starting over.

It’s the time to be quick as a photographer.  One day there’s a great composition and the next it’s gone as flowers pass their peak and babies grow rapidly.  Much like chasing fall colors it feels like the best way to handle this season is to go into the woods and stay for a month or so, patiently keeping an eye on all the goings-on and being there when the best view manifests itself.  Tough to do as an amateur.

More moving objects

More practice with long lens, continuous focus, reticle sighting and birds gliding on the wind.  Getting the equipment set up properly is just half the effort – tracking and exposure make or break the effort.

For the technical among you:  Olympus E-3, continuous focus mode, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO 100, 5fps shooting.  300mm, f/2.8 lens with 1.4x teleconverter.  Olympus EE-1 reticle sight.

I like how the first image looks like an X-ray of the wings, with everything fitting together perfectly to complete the form.  The second image highlights the streamline form of the bird, making it easy to glide with the wind or shift directly quickly. The last image shows off the wingspan that enables gulls to grab the wind and fly fast or hover in one spot looking for food or a landing zone.

Holiday wanderings

Nice Labor Day weekend visit to the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI.  They’ll be closing down for winter in a month or so and I wanted to make some more images there this year.  It was a cloudy day so the light was even and not harsh.  Their exhibits are well done and fun even if you aren’t a crane fanatic.  There are quite a few endangered crane species in the world and the Foundation works to preserve habitat as well as repopulate birds.  They hand-rear various species for relocation around the globe.  Hurricane Harvey did quite a bit of damage to their facility near Houston, which is involved with whooping crane research and repopulation.  You can contribute to their efforts by clicking on the link above.

Black Crowned Crane, International Crane Foundation

Whooping Crane, International Crane Foundation

Thought I’d practice with fast moving birds a bit but the gull population down by the lake was absent, with very few birds flying down the beach.  Pretty odd – maybe they had filled up on tourist snacks earlier in the day.  With the good weather, however, there were several fast moving objects on the water the practice on.

425mm, f/5, 1/1000sec

After waiting a bit and enjoying the sailboats gliding around the harbor I finally got this guy cruising the area.

425mm, f/5, 1/1600sec

The gear is all working as I hoped but I still need to work on the continuous focus system in my camera.  It doesn’t always react as fast as I think I need and it sometimes doesn’t focus on the subject I’m seeing.  Just need more birds flying by.

Hitting the target

One temptation coming from having a long lens is to photograph birds.  Bring them up close and personal to admire their colors, shape and look.  It’s a great idea but unlike the grand landscape, birds don’t sit still for long.  And if they do, it’s usually hundreds of yards away where they can keep an eye on you with plenty of time to flee.

Which comes to the second temptation – photograph flying birds.  What a great idea, to stop a bird in flight to admire how they glide through the air.  Tricky thing to do, however.

Turns out camera makers have tools to make it easier.  With all the gear available for photographers why should this be a surprise.  Interestingly, this idea is adapted from the armament business – a sighting tool.

This device sits in the hotshoe on top of the camera and projects a bright red reticle onto glass that you look through instead of the camera’s viewfinder.  A couple of simply adjustments ensures alignment between what you place the reticle on and what your camera lens sees.  Now instead of squinting through the viewfinder trying to keep a flying bird (or fast car, or airplane, or any moving object) centered in the view, you see the whole scene in front of you while aiming at the subject.  Much easier to track a moving object.

I set my camera up for continuous focus using all the focal points available, use the highest frames per second shooting rate and as high a shutter speed as I can get.  Then it’s time for birds.

300mm lens, f/3.2, 1/2000 sec

200mm lens, F/3.5, 1/1000 sec.

200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/3200 sec.

All of these images are seriously cropped from larger versions so they aren’t as crisply sharp as I’d want.  One of my first lessons is to not try and learn to do this using swallows as the subject.  They can hit a top speed of 40 MPH and seem to be capable of 90 degree turns at that speed.  I’m not sure my camera is able to focus fast enough to keep up with their changes in distance and trajectory.  Without the eyesight mounted on my camera I doubt being able to even make these images so it works as advertised.

At least I have a goal to reach now, really nice images of flying martins.  But I’ll probably practice more on something a little less agile and quick.  Maybe like this guy.

300mm lens, f/5.6, 1/640 sec

No, seriously, something that moves faster than a sloth.  I’m thinking my old friends will work just fine.

Sandhill Cranes, 200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/2500 sec