Tern Doing Mid Air Shake

Terns are one of the most common birds and various species can be found in many locations around the world. Since terns often dive to catch fish they can be regularly seen shaking momentarily while in flight. This helps the birds shed themselves of excess water on their feathers. This article shares photographs from an AF-C run of a tern doing a mid air shake.

What follows is a series of 14 consecutive images captured hand-held with a Nikon 1 V3 equipped with a 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Frame 1, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360
Frame 2, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360
Frame 3, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360
Frame 4, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360
Frame 5, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-360
Frame 6, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Frame 7, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Frame 8, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Frame 9, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Frame 10, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Frame 11, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Frame 12, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Frame 13, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Frame 14, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500

To capture this sequence of images I shot at 20 frames per second using continuous auto-focus (AF-C) with subject tracking. I used Manual camera settings with Auto-ISO 160-6400.

If you have terns in your area and would like to capture an AF-C run like the one above, it is important to watch your local birds to see how they signal this mid air shake.

The tern I photographed waited for between 2-4 seconds after leaving the water before doing its mid air shake. Just before doing this shake its flight path dipped and rose ever so slightly. It is at this point that a shutter release needs to be timed.

I’d recommend shooting at the fastest continuous auto-focus frame rate that your camera allows in order to get the most number of unique wing and body positions. If your camera has a deep buffer, you can simply track with the tern in flight and fill your buffer until it does its mid air shake.

The mid air shake motions captured in this sequence all occurred within a time span of about 1/2 second.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection. All photographs were cropped to 4,000 pixels in width, then resized for web use.

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4 thoughts on “Tern Doing Mid Air Shake”

  1. Hi Tom,

    The moment I saw your post, I had this funny/pun-ny moment of inspiration – “How the tern turns” LOL. But seriously, you keep amazing me with the raft and range of wildlife/bird life action shots. And consequently, expanding possibilities for the Nikon 1. Though, up to a certain point, a camera can only do so much; it had to be the photographer/artist manning the controls and using the equipment that makes such things possible.

    Oggie

    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for adding to the discussion – I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the images! As I’ve mentioned in a number of articles, it is important for each of us to get to know our gear and understand its capabilities. This can help lead to more creative use of our cameras as we push them towards their limits. Observing bird behaviour so we can anticipate action also helps a great deal.

      One of my favourite definitions of luck is ‘when preparation meets opportunity’. Knowing our gear is the preparation part. Understanding our bird subjects helps create anticipation, and through that, opportunities.

      Tom

  2. Hey Thomas, just wanted to get back to you with an appreciative comment on the content quality of your posts. Close as it gets to actual hand holding and very much appreciated. I shoot with a Nikon D500 and primarily a Nikkor 200-500 lens @ 500mm for birds and find your sharing of technique and exif data to be, well, priceless. Thank you very much.

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