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Barn Swallow In Flight (Shooting Techniques)

Several members ask me about the technique for taking swallow in flight shots. Well, it's actually not that much different from taking regular bird in flight shots except for you might need to use faster focus speed lenses and study the habit/flying pattern of the swallow a little bit.


Followings are some of my personal experiences for taking swallow in flight shots that hopefully will be helpful:


1. Appropriate equipments. I use Nikon D200 with AFS 80-200mm/f2.8D, AFS VR 70-200mm/f2.8G, AFI 300mm/f2.8D and AFS 300mm/f2.8 D (version I) lenses. Normally no TC (Teleconverter) attached to ensure that I will acquire the maximum focus speed from the lens.


2. Turn off the VR when using the 70-200mm/f2.8G because VR seems to be slow down the focus speed.


3. Always set the aperture between 5.6 - 8.0 to get better DOF with shutter speed between 1/1200 - 1/2000 sec. Also set the exposure compensation to +0.3 or +0.7 EV to gain better details. Note that for birds like swallow, cormorant, red-winged black-bird, crow that has dark feathers you want to increase EV and bids with brighter feathers such as egret, white-tailed kit, white pelican you definitely need to decrease EV (-0.3 ~ -1.0 EV) to ensure the accurate exposure. My thumb of rules - rather under than over exposure the subject.


4. Camera is set to High Speed Continuous Shooting mode with focus set to Continuous Servo mode and Group Dynamic focus area (5 focus points). Note that more focus points activate means slower the focus speed it will be (i.e. Single Area AF is the fastest and Closest Subject Priority AF is the slowest). Group Dynamic AF speed is the 2nd fastest focus setting and you can gain a little bit more speed by switching the focus point from 5 to 3 in the Custom Setting.


5. Select a spot that is close to the nesting area because swallows tend to slow down when they return to the nest and sometimes even hoover a little bit.


6. When using a zoom lens (e.g. 80-200mm), I normally zoom out first, target a swallow that will possibly fly towards me, lock in the target, and gradually (not too slowly of course) zoom in (don't release your index finger from the shutter release button because you want the camera to keep tracking the focus), and then just press down the button when the subject gets close enough (average 3-5 shots per sequence).


7. Practice, practice and more practices...




That's pretty much about it. I am still learning and try very hard to improve my skill. It will be lucky for me to get 10 decent images from a couple of hundreds shots but the biggest reward for me afterall is I have learned to appreciate the elegance of a flying swallow.


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Taken on May 9, 2010