Great Egret, ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/1000 second
Bird Photography,  Photo Gear

Using Olympus Pro Capture to Photograph Fishing Birds in Action

I use Olympus Pro Capture all the time to photograph Birds in Flight, especially for bird take offs.  I also use it to capture bees and other insects in flight.  But Olympus Pro Capture has many other uses.

One of my latest projects is photographing Fishing Birds using Pro Capture.  Pro Capture does a great job of photographing the action sequence for wading birds such as Egrets and Herons.

Topaz Labs

Equipment

I primarily use my Olympus OM-D E-M1X paired with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens and 1.4x teleconverter for photographing bird fishing action.  However, I’ve also used my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III for Pro Capture.

There are couple reasons that I choose the E-M1X over the E-M1 Mark III for photographing using Pro Capture.

  1. Anytime that you use the AI features in the camera is drains more battery.  So, it is useful to have a second battery in the camera.  You can also add the Olympus HLD-9 battery grip for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and E-M1 Mark III.
  2. The E-M1X has Bird Detection Autofocus.  I find that Bird Detection Autofocus works very well with Pro Capture Low to photograph bird action sequences. 

Pro Capture is available on the following Olympus cameras.

  • OM-D E-M1X
  • OM-D E-M1 Mark III
  • OM-D E-M1 Mark II
  • OM-D E-M5 Mark III
  • Tough TG-6.
Great Blue Heron. ISO 1000, f/6.3 1/500 second
Great Blue Heron. ISO 1000, f/6.3 1/500 second

Settings

ISO

I like to keep my ISO as low as possible but for Pro Capture on Bird Fishing sequences but sometimes a higher ISO is required to freeze the action.  I find that keeping the ISO at 1250 or lower results in better quality images.  I like to shoot in early mornings when the birds are more active which often requires these higher ISOs.  However, I do lower the ISO as the light gets brighter later in the morning.

Aperture  

Aperture is one of the settings you can trade off to increase the light instead of raising your ISO.  I like to try to and get the aperture to f/8 to increase the depth of field and improve the odds of getting

more of the bird in focus.  I will increase the size of the aperture to around f/6.3 to get more light and increase the shutter speed.  Generally, I like to keep the aperture between f/6.3 and f/8.0.

Shutter Speed

I have gotten sharp action shots down to 1/500 of a second.  But, I like to keep my shutter speed at 1/800 of a second or faster to ensure I freeze the action.

Shooting Mode

I like to shoot in Aperture Mode but I find that Manual Mode also works well for Pro Capture.

Exposure Compensation 

Exposure compensation is an important control for shooting light and dark colored birds.  For white birds like Egrets, I lower the exposure compensation to ensure the white don’t get blown out.  For dark colored birds like Herons and Cormorants, I’ll increase the exposure compensation to bring out the details in the dark areas of the bird.

Tip: Practice changing the exposure compensation without looking at the camera so you can quickly change the settings in the field as your subject changes.

AF Mode / AF Area

For the E-M1X, I have this set to C-AF+TR (Continuous AF plus Tracking) with the Tracking Subject set to Birds.  The Tracking Subject can be set on the Gear – A3 menu.  With Birds set as the Tracking Subject, I set my AF Area to all points to let the Continuous Autofocus work within the entire focus area.

The E-M1 Mark III does not have Bird Tracking.  To shoot fishing birds with the E-M1 Mark III, I shoot at a smaller aperture (f/7/1 or f/8) and focus on the birds head.  If the bird strikes the fish at an angle roughly parallel to the focus plain, the bird should be in focus.  With this technique, you can also use Pro Capture High which does not have the f/8 aperture limitation but also does not allow shooting in C-AF.

Sequential Low Pro Cap Settings - Gear Menu - C1
Sequential Low Pro Cap Settings – Gear Menu – C1

Pro Capture Settings

I generally shoot with Pro Capture Low so the camera will Autofocus between exposures.  This is also required if you are using Bird Detection Autofocus.  The smallest aperture that you can use with Pro Capture Low is f/8.0.

My Continuous Low settings for Pro Capture are: 18fps, 15 Pre-shutter frames and Frame Count Limiter turned off.  I find this to be a nice balance between capturing the action and the number of images I need to cull through after the shoot.  Continuous Low Pro Capture settings can be set in the Gear – C1 – L Settings.

Pro Capture Low Settings
Pro Capture Low Settings

Tip: Assign your Pro Capture settings to one of the Custom Dial settings on your camera so you can quickly change to them if you get an action sequence photo opportunity.

Great Egret. ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/2000 Second
Great Egret. ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/2000 Second

Approach

With the Pro Capture technology, the approach is quite simple. 

Compose the bird in the frame. Leave room in front of the bird as they generally strike in that direction.

Half press the shutter and wait until the action.  When the bird moves to fish, fully press the shutter.

It is helpful to have the histogram showing in the viewfinder so you can verify that parts of your image aren’t too bright or too dark.  Press the Info Button until the histogram shows in the viewfinder.

I always shoot hand held for bird images with my Olympus cameras.  I find that the image stabilization and higher frame rate required for bird action photos works great for hand holding my OM-Ds.  Hand holding your camera allows you to quickly frame or change subjects while shooting.

Written by Martin Belan

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Top Tips and Settings for Birds in Flight Photography using Olympus OM-D Cameras
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How to use Olympus’ Pro Capture Mode to Photograph Birds in Flight

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