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The Mighty Tree Swallow

Published August 2nd, 2011

Tree swallows are such pretty little birds. Beautiful iridescent blues, purples and greens set against a clean and perfectly white breast. And they are happy birds. They fly around gracefully doing their aerobatics and chirping away. They sit carelessly in the sun just posing for photographs..."look at me, I'm gorgeous, take my picture".

Ah, but that's too easy. One thing I love about photography is the challenges it can pose. I seldom take "the easy shot". I've passed up gorgeous wood ducks posing at the park pond (yeah, I'm an idiot) and I've never taken an animal pic at a local zoo....Too easy, not *real* enough for me. (I REALLY need to get over that!)

So the challenge....

Photograph a tree swallow in flight. No tricks. No trap focus, no remote triggers, no flash to freeze the motion. Nothing. Just me and my skills. My panning technique and reaction time against the speed of the little swallow. Mano a Mano.

Hah! No problem. I know what I'm doing and I've got skills. I'm big (relatively speaking), I'm smart, I'm a's just a little bird.

So off to the local swallow hangout. I get set up with my biggest zoom set at maximum focal length. I set a high SS and narrow aperture because I know they are pretty quick and I need all the help I can get with sharpness. I get set up and start shooting....

Ok, no I don't. I *attempt* to get a shot. I *attempt* to keep one of those suckers in the FOV. Did I say they were "pretty quick"? They are rockets! Aerobatic F-16's the size of my cell phone!

"There's one to the left. Where'd he go? There! Get him quick! Left! Right! Up! Left! Huh?"

I just can't keep them in the FOV....Ok, lets widen it up then.

Left! Right! Up! Left! I'm on him and I pull the trigger! I got him!

Yep, three perfectly exposed pictures of half a wing. Ok, let's widen it up some more.

An hour later, 50 exposures and not one real "keeper". They'll all have to be cropped to death. I give up.

But I won't be beaten!

So again I'm off to capture the pretty little swallow. This time I'm kitted up. It's the 300-800mm zoom on the D3. I've got the camera mounted on my custom rifle stock with a hair trigger . I've got a red dot rifle scope mounted in the hot-shoe bracket. It's all mounted onto the Gitzo with a monster Gimbal head.

The bird doesn't have a chance! Spray and Pray Baby! (ok, for me that means 3-5 shots per burst instead of 2-3)

I look like a machine gunner tracking fighter planes during WWII. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! INCOMING! BLAM! BLAM! Swivel left! Swivel right! Up! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!.....BLAM! BLAM!

It's the same thing....

An hour or so and many pics later, not a real "keeper" in the bunch.

The mighty tree swallow has won.

I've tried a couple times since, and I'll try again. I will succeed!









Cool! But lacking detail.

  • June 28th, 2011
  • Nikon D3
  • 140mm / f/8 / 1/2000 sec


HARD crop, they all are.

  • April 20th, 2010
  • Nikon D3
  • 800mm / f/8 / 1/2000 sec


Interesting and kind of nice, but lacking detail.

  • June 28th, 2011
  • Nikon D3
  • 150mm / f/8 / 1/1500 sec


Posing nicely

  • May 3rd, 2011
  • Nikon D3
  • 800mm / f/8 / 1/1000 sec


Posing with a prop

  • March 25th, 2011
  • Nikon D3
  • 440mm / f/8 / 1/1000 sec

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Denise Panyik-Dale  over 6 years ago

I actually think the first one above is pretty cool. I mean, how often do you look a bird straight in both eyes when it's about to dive bomb you (unless it's a pigeon, but that's a whole different kind of dive bombing).

Steven Kersting  over 6 years ago

Thank you!

Steven Kersting  over 6 years ago
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Daniel Dawn 風傳影像  over 6 years ago

luv this article... great words and images!!!