Friday, May 9, 2014

CHALLENGING SWALLOWS

I don't claim to be a hot-shot bird photographer—or an expert photographer of any sort. I get by, but I'd classify my overall abilities as generally adequate and occasionally lucky. What might be mistaken for talent is more often the result of perseverance and a blithe willingness to shoot a hundred images of something in order to get one that looks half-way pleasing. Being a perfectionist doesn't help, but shooting digital allows me to indulge such a personality quirk for no additional cost other than time…which was not the case when I used to shoot film.

Birds-in-flight photos are, generally speaking, harder to achieve than more static shots of, say, a titmouse perched on a maple branch. The really skilled action shooters smirkingly refer to such images as "birds-on-a-stick." In my photo files, respectable pix in this latter category probably outnumber acceptable images of the former sort fifty-to-one, and that might be an optimistic estimate.

I mention this because I've decided to try and come up with some decent images of northern rough-winged swallows feeding over the pool in front of the cottage. The two shots I've posted are the best of my first-round efforts. I shot nearly a hundred exposures to get these—and while they are okay, they're certainly not great, especially given that they simply show the birds in flight, and not in one of their obvious contortionist feeding positions as they swoop and dive, zig and zag, zooming about gleefully snatching emerging aquatic insects.
     
Northern rough-winged swallows in action are a tough capture—at least for me. Not quite as challenging as bats, but challenging enough—fast and erratic. I think I can do better, but it may take awhile, like a year or two. So I figured I'd stick these up for now, in case my idealized swallow image proves to be a will-o'-the-wisp.    

 

8 comments:

Gail said...

Hi Grizz- you are so humble. I SO love your captured images of nature and wild-life. I love the rivers green color today - my favorite color. And the bird in flight? Glorious.
Have a great day
Love Gail
peace......
p.s. 2 weeks today since my teeth event and I am slowly becoming a pro at making them work Although I am no where ready to eat in public :-)

George said...

Nice shots, Grizz. I must say that I've never even attempted to shoot a swallow in flight. They dart about so quickly and erratically that I can barely keep up with them using the naked eye. Given the freezing the swallow in flight, while keeping a sharp eye (as you've done), I curious about the ISO you used to shoot these images.

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Really, there's less humility and more honesty involved here than you think—but I sure appreciate the support. I am, however, fully with you on your appreciation of green…of course I'm Irish, and thus genetically predisposed to venerate green, so it would be blasphemous to claim otherwise.

Regarding those new teeth, I expect any public eating issues, real or imagined, are a way bigger deal to you than anyone else. Don't be intimidated by what you worry a friend, family member, or total strangers might think. Who cares? That's their problem, not yours. Take the high road, live large and loud, and enjoy every minute! And if anyone gets in your way, bite em!

Grizz………… said...

George…

I'll tell you one thing, trying to keep up with an individual swallow in the viewfinder is no easy task on the nerves. It can make you a little crazy real quick. All personally speaking, obviously. But I'm having fun at this…I think.

Technical details: Nikon D7000, 1/640th of a second, and I believe at ISO 800. I can bring myself to actually liking the results I get with those really high ISOs, though that's probably due to my inability to properly post-process; I know some photographers achieve excellent images at five or six stops higher settings. I am lately trying to fiddle with 1600 ISO a bit, but I'm pretty sure these were at 800. Hey, I used to shoot Kodachrome 25 for years, and thought I'd moved into the realm of really high-speed materials when Fuji came out with Velvia at a 100 ISO!

George said...

Thanks for the technical info, Grizz. I also shoot with a D7000. I was curious about the ISO because, like you, I cut my teeth on K25, and, regardless of technological advances, I'm always instinctively fearful of higher ISO's (or ASA's, as we used to call them). Always fearful of excessive grain/noise.

Grizz………… said...

George…

You've called it exactly right. It is fear of grain/noise, an instinctive or at least deeply learned distrust of high-number ISOs. And frankly, probably not all that valid, at least not until you get into rarified heights. In fact, I'm always trying to drop from ISO 400 down to 200 or 100. And when I really get serious about an image, I'll use a sturdy tripod, weighted, turn off vibration reduction, lock the mirror up, and release the shutter with a wireless remote. (Not on flying swallows, obviously!) Old school all the way.

Momcat said...


Forgive me for saying so ... but you are expert. Now, there may be degrees of expert, so on a scale of 1 to 5, can't you admit to being at least 3.75 (I knew you would say NOT 4.0.)?
Seriously, those photos express a beautiful, casual freedom and yet at the same time make the heart know that soaring to greater heights is possible. That is what they say to me anyway .. and with that beautiful green.
I hope to be half as good at this as you are someday.

Grizz………… said...

Momcat…

Artistically, I have a reasonably good eye—I can usually compose or crop an image pretty well, paying mind to such things as form and texture, color balance, action juxtaposition, negative space, etc. (IMHO) But good action shooting—i.e., birds-in-flight—is a learned skill-set, depending partly on gear and how to best use it to achieve your goal, and partly on technique—which comes from doing it often enough to develop proficiency. I lag sorely in this latter respect…though I also wouldn't mind having a fast lens in the 600mm range. (Not going to happen on my budget.) Luckily, developing the instinctive skills (gotta be able to do it without thinking) and mastering the gear I have—which is adequate for many situations—is just one of those equations of effort or aspirations, wherein time and practice becomes payment necessary to reach the skill level desired.

But in the meantime, another old equation applies…that even a blind hog finds an occasional acorn. When it comes to birds-in-flight photography, I am firmly NOT now a 3.75, but merely blind hog.