Purple Martin in flight

I went out this morning with the intention of trying to capture some images of hummingbirds in flight. Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and I didn’t see any hummingbirds at all this morning. Instead I ended up trying to photograph some Purple Martin in flight.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800

Purple Martin are larger than any other common swallow found in North America. They are swift, acrobatic flyers and I haven’t had any real success photographing them in the past.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 246mm, efov 663mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 246mm, efov 663mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800

Even though the birds appear to be very erratic flyers I decided to watch the members of the colony at Ruthven Park to see what I could learn.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800

These birds certainly aren’t as predictable as larger, slow moving birds like cormorants, but they did exhibit a few common approach moves.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800

I positioned myself with the sun at my back and at a bit of an angle to the nesting boxes at Ruthven Park. This afforded me a rather narrow ‘shooting window’ with the sky as a background.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800

What I quickly discovered was that it was much easier trying to photograph these little speed demons at a focal length of between 150mm to 210mm rather than trying to use my 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 fully extended.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800

I was able to pick up the birds much better as they made their ‘dipsy-doodle’ approaches and keep them in the viewfinder. This necessitated some fairly aggressive cropping in post, but at least I was finally able to capture some usable images.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-800

I used AF-C with subject tracking and shot my Nikon 1 V2 at 15fps. I’d estimate that I missed about 50% of the AF-C runs I tried. This was more likely my fault than that of the V2 as I often pressed the shutter too quickly, before the camera had acquired focus on these little bullets.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800

I set my ISO to 800, forcing a faster shutter speed to try to ‘freeze’ the wing movement of the various birds.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 571mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-800

I was able to capture AF-C runs of Purple Martin in free flight and as they approached their nesting boxes. This yielded an assortment of images.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800

Taking the time to watch the birds to determine the most advantageous shooting angle, as well as shortening the focal length of my zoom lens were the two biggest factors in the success that I had today.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/5000, ISO-800

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to make a modest donation through PayPal to support my work it would be most appreciated.

Perhaps you’re a novice or amateur photographer wanting to improve your skills and understanding of photography and looking for a customized solution. Give us a call or pop us an email to learn about our photography coaching programs.

You can also support my efforts when you purchase anything from B&H by using the Thomas Stirr affiliate link. Even the smallest purchases will help support this web site.

As a reminder to our Canadian readers, you can get a special 5% discount when ordering Tamron or Rokinon lenses and other products directly from the Amplis Store by using promotion code
AMPLIS52015TS.

Article and all images are Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. While we do allow some pre-authorized links to our site from folks like Nikon Canada and Mirrorlessons.com, if you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.

13 thoughts on “Purple Martin in flight”

  1. Great report, Tom. I continually learn new things from your posts.
    I understand why you backed off your focal length. Was that only to aid acquisition of the subject, or did you also change your focus area mode from point AF to some other AF mode? (I know you use point AF when photographing large predictable birds.)

    1. Hi Jack,
      Thanks for your supportive comment – much appreciated! Backing off on my focal length was to aid in subject acquisition and tracking. I did not change my AF settings at all. I still shot using AF-C with subject tracking.
      Tom

  2. Tom – as always, a good post, and your information is what adds to the images. I like learning from your experiences, as well as seeing the results. Nice work !

    1. Hi NMDrew,
      Thanks for the positive comment – much appreciated! Truth be known I was thrilled to finally get some usable Purple Martin images that I could share with readers! Now, if those elusive little hummingbirds would cooperate next time…
      Tom

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the images Alan…thanks for your comment! The 1 Nikon CX 70-300 is the most expensive of the system’s lenses so a purchase decision isn’t to be taken lightly. Mine has been a stellar performer that has yet to let me down.
      Tom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *