Photographing the Swallows in Flight

Photographing the Swallows (specially Barn Swallows) in flight became an obsession for me about 5 years back , when I tried to get a decent flight shot of that species for an entire day and ended up capturing some hazy physique of the restless birds.

The Barn Swallow being a fast moving small bird , it is always a challenging task for the bird photographers to photograph it in flight. No matter how fast the AF speed of the lens is, it is always difficult to keep one swallow in the frame in sharp focus. Therefore photographing the flight of the Barn Swallow is a test of patience and hand eye co-ordination of the photographer.

I tried to capture the many moods of Barn Swallow for the last 5 years with many types of lens and camera body, and in this process I have learnt quite a few things about the bird. This knowledge, which I am about to share, later helped me a lot in capturing the flight of this beautiful bird.

The main problem of photographing swallows or swifts is their speed. However, the advantage for the photographer is their large number and easy availability. We may easily find them flying above a paddy field or a small piece of shallow water body. The first thing one should do after spotting the flying flock is finding the right position from where one can get a relatively clean background. As the main colour of the bard is dark blue, it is easier tracking them against a lighter background like light green or light yellow. Reddish yellow colour of dry grasses also easily makes the subject stand-out in the final frame due to the darker colour of the bird.

After choosing the position, one should closely observe the bird’s movement rather than clicking random shots. Most of the time the flight of the birds has a pattern, especially when they enter the field from a particular corner, or start touching the water from a particular side of the water body. The most important part of photographing them is to find out that flight pattern. If we can find that out, we can start following them much before their entry into our desired background.

But then comes the most difficult part. As the bird flies very fast and quite unpredictable in their flying path, it is often found that a bird enters our pre-imagined path, but changes its course just before entering our desired background, or some birds appear against that background out of nowhere. Still if we can wait and follow them continuously for a few hours, we shall have greater chance of a good sharp image with a nice bokeh.

Alternatively, sometimes they sit on a perch above the field or the water body. As they usually don’t sit on a single perch for long, Focusing on the perch for a few minutes can give a nice flight shot.

While attempting to capture flight shots of the Barn Swallow, it is better to engage all the focus points of the camera, and setting the camera on AF-C mode of auto-focus is a must for those shots. Apart from the flight from the perch, where sometimes I take the shot at f/7.1 or f/8, most of the time I usually use the lens wide open.

Cropping is an obvious part of the post processing of the flight shots of the Barn Swallow, because it is too difficult to capture close shots of this busy bird.Therefore it is necessary to use a high megapixel camera, so that after cropping we can get a final frame of decent size.

Finally, in my opinion, photographing the flights of the Barn Swallow or any swallow similar to barn is like batting in a cricket test match where your patience and concentration play the vital role in building your innings. It is never like a one day match or twenty-20 game where you aim to start hitting soon after arriving at the crease.

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