Cormorant Swallowing Fish at 20 fps

This short article features a series of 23 images showing a cormorant swallowing a fish at 20 frames per second. When I’ve observed cormorants fishing in the past, they usually surface after capturing a very small fish. These quickly disappear down the gullet of the cormorant with a quick head flick. I was quite surprised to see the cormorant in this series of images surface with a fairly large fish in its beak.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

This was one of those captures that can never be predicted. Its great when Lady Luck is along side, allowing you to be at the right place, at the right time.

I took a very short AF-C burst when the cormorant first surfaced with its catch, as you can see in the image above. The bird quickly adjusted the fish in its beak to allow for a head-first swallow.

I had my Nikon 1 V3 set in Manual with Auto ISO 160-3200. I used AF-C with subject tracking at 20 frames per second, with VR turned off. I used a shutter speed of 1/2000, an aperture of f/5.6, and center-weighted metering. ISO varied between ISO-1250 and ISO-1600 for the images in this series. The images were captured hand-held. I used the 1 Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm zoom lens fully extended. This provides an equivalent field-of-view of 810mm.

As the cormorant aligned the fish I took an AF-C burst of 23 images. All of the action that follows took just over a second for the bird to complete!

Being able to capture a natural event like this at 20 fps using AF-C provides some unique insights that would not have been possible using a slower frame rate. It’s one of the reasons that I love shooting stills with Nikon 1 gear.

Technical Note:
All images were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens, and shown as 100% captures without any cropping. All photographs used in this article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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12 thoughts on “Cormorant Swallowing Fish at 20 fps”

  1. Cool blog and fascinating shots! I initially noticed your “Cormorant vs Fish” series. Wow, that looked like a huge fish the bird took on here! Amazingly this photo series really only took seconds?! It seems unreal how something so big (and I imagine thrashing about! Do you know the fish type?) could be consumed wholly.

    So did the Cormorant really could get/keep that whole thing down its long neck okay?? If eaten in that condition, wouldn’t the potential prey be wriggling back out to escape as well?!

    1. Hi Kyle,

      I was also surprised that the cormorant was able to swallow that fish! I initially thought it would be too large for it to get it down. The fact that the cormorant had to adjust its hold on it to get it positioned ‘head first’ was a key factor in me being able to capture the AF-C run as it allowed a bit more time to get focused on the bird.

      To answer your questions, yes the entire series of 23 images only took a little over 1 second (I was shooting at 20 fps). From what I could tell the cormorant kept the fish down. The event happened so quickly that I have no idea what type of fish it was.


  2. Extraordinary catches. The Nikon V3 combined with the 70-300mm focal point is a marvelous mix for shooting natural life.

    My exclusive inquiry is your decision to leave the VR off for this dazzling succession. Would you be able to disclose to us why you made this choice?The just programming that I frequently refresh is DxO OpticsPro. For whatever length of time that CS6 still works with new forms of OpticsPro and my Nik and Topaz modules work with CS6 I’m not anticipating evolving anything. On the off chance that some of my present procedure moves toward becoming non-utilitarian later on, I’ll reassess things by then.

    1. Hi Monalisa,
      The purpose of vibration reduction (VR) or image stabilization (IS) is to reduce camera movement caused by a photographer when shooting at slower speeds, with the intent of producing sharp images at those slow shutter speeds. When using faster shutter speeds as I did in the image sequence in this article there is no technical reason to use VR. Sometimes an image can ‘float’ a bit in the frame when VR is being used which can cause the subject not to be framed as intended. That is the primary reason why I do not use VR when shooting at faster shutter speeds. I’ve had my Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm repaired twice under warranty for VR issues so from a practical standpoint I only use VR when I’m shooting at slower shutter speeds hand-held.

  3. Great series. It’s amazing to see what you do with the Nikon V3. Thanks for sharing.
    On a side note and since your standard process includes Nik Collection, now that Google have no plans to update the Collection or add new features over time, I wonder what are you going to do. Is there any alternative?
    Thank you for your time.

    1. Hi Jorge,
      The only software that I regularly update is DxO OpticsPro. As long as CS6 still works with new versions of OpticsPro and my Nik and Topaz plug-ins work with CS6 I’m not planning on changing anything. If some of my current process becomes non-functional in the future, I’ll reassess things at that point.

  4. Great captures. The Nikon V3 coupled with the 70-300mm lens is an awesome combination for shooting wildlife.
    My only question is your choice to leave the VR off for this lovely sequence. Can you tell us why you made this choice?

    1. Hi Mike,

      When shooting at a fast shutter speed there is no technical reason to keep VR engaged, i.e. to reduce potential image blur. Engaging VR can cause some minor framing shift of a subject, and I’ve found that I am better able to keep the subject in my images framed more consistently when I turn VR off when shooting at fast shutter speeds. This is true for both semi-static subjects like the cormorant in this series of images and for birds-in-flight. Whether a photographer chooses to use VR when shooting at fast shutter speeds is a personal choice.

      I shoot with the 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm lens at slower shutter speeds on a very regular basis and always use VR. The lens does an outstanding job in these situations.

      The VR on my CX 70-300mm lens has been repaired twice under warranty by Nikon Canada so I only engage it when I need to do so.


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