Sunday, January 26, 2014

Project J Revisited

Regular readers of my blog will recall that I have a long running project to photograph Jays in flight, known as 'Project J' which started back in 2009. I have dipped in and out of this over the intervening years and last weekend thought it about time for a revisit given that conditions looked right.  Typically I arrived too early and before the sun had even crawled up over the horizon but it gave me a few moments to gather my thoughts and think about my approach for the session ahead.

For this session I decided that I was going to try a closer approach using the 300mm F2.8 lens. This lens has very fast autofocus and thought it might help with the erratic nature of the Jays flight path. However, this would of course be offset by the fact that I would be now much closer which means the action is much faster and more difficult for photographer and autofocus to keep in touch with the birds. The easier approach would be to set-up a log or stump and pre-focus on it but I always like a challenge and can assure you that trying to photograph free flying jays is definitely not easy.  Not only are the birds quite erratic in flight but also perform what I call the 'jay flip' on landing which is a bit of mid-acrobatics just before touch down. This can see them flip out of the field of view just at the critical last moment.
Of the three corvids present at this site - crows, magpies and jays, the jay being the smallest is at the bottom of the pecking order which usually means a short wait is required for them to appear. So whilst waiting a did a couple of test shots with the magpies.
The light was all over the place during the session with both sun and overcast conditions which kept me very busy with adjusting camera settings. The long shadows from nearby trees cast by the low winter sun also proved problematic as they moved across my target area as the sun rose. The photography is all done from the car which is not the ideal place to pursue flight photography but is the only way possible with this shy species. I really wish my car had smaller wing mirrors!!
Four Jays eventually appeared and it was time to try and capture some flight images. I decided for this session I would mainly concentrate on the birds coming into land.

The session was reasonably successful although quite a few images ended up in the trash from this session. I am still debating whether using a longer lens at greater distance is a better approach. Of course there are a lot of variables during each individual session which affect the birds behaviour such as wind direction, how many jays are visiting and the interaction with other birds. I doubt I will ever find the magic formula for success beyond perseverance. This is why I keep returning to Project J and am sure this certainly will not be my last session as it is always a pleasure to spend time with these charismatic birds.


Monique et Daniel said...

Magnifiques ces photos en vol!
je serais curieux de connaƮtre les exif data, je suppose qu'il y a un flash?
merci d'avance!

Rich Steel said...

Thanks for the comment. No flash was used just natural light and the amazing high ISO capability of the 1DX to give plenty of shutter speed

Nelson said...

Fascinating photographs, congratulations !

Sharon Whitley said...

beautiful! Love the magpie too


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