Northern Cardinal Take Off
Bird Photography,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear

How to Capture Bird Behavior with Olympus / OM System Pro Capture

Photographing Birds from a blind can lead to some close, sharp images of birds.  You can also witness and capture a variety of bird behaviors.  Olympus / OM System Pro Capture can make it easy to capture and document bird behaviors. The images in this blog were taken with the OM System OM-1 and 300mm f/4 Pro lens.

Olympus / OM System Pro Capture uses a pre-buffering technology that continuously records frames at a high frame rate while the shutter button is half-pressed. When the photographer fully presses the shutter button, the camera saves the frames recorded before and after the button press. This helps to capture the shot in situations where timing is critical like bird behavior.

Bird Behavior that Pro Capture Helps to Photograph

  • Take-offs
  • Landings
  • Hops
  • Birds Feeding and Drinking
  • Territorial Behavior over Food Sources
  • Bathing in the Pond or Bird Bath
  • Birds Taking Steps
  • Nest Building
Northern Cardinal Take Off
Northern Cardinal Take Off

Bird Take-offs

Bird take-offs are probably the most common use of Pro Capture.  Pro Capture is an excellent tool for bird take-offs and it’s quite simple to use.  Just half press the shutter release button with a Pro Capture Drive mode selected, and fully press the shutter button when you see the bird begin to take-off.

Bird Landings

Pro Capture is also an excellent tool for capturing birds when they are coming in for landing.  By watching the birds behavior and patterns, you can predict where they will land.  You can compose on this area (branch, log, etc.) and wait for the action.  You can also use a faster drive mode (ProCapSH1 on the OM-1) that doesn’t autofocus between frames by pre-focusing on the landing spot.

Green Jay Hop
Green Jay Hop


In addition to flying, birds also hop to travel shorter distances between perches.  Birds use hopping to aid in foraging and to navigate difficult terrain.  A hopping bird can also be a terrific subject for bird photography.  Pro Capture can also help to get photos of hopping birds.

Green Jay with a Mouth Full of Seeds
Green Jay with a Mouth Full of Seeds

Birds Feeding and Drinking

You can get some terrific bird behavior photographs of birds eating and drinking.  High frame rates and Pro Capture can help to capture these moments.  Here are some of my favorite bird feeding and drinking behaviors to photograph:

  • Birds posing with a big seed in their mouth
  • Birds cracking seeding with shells flying everywhere
  • Birds stuffing their mouths with seeds
  • Birds drinking from a water drip
A Heated Dispute Between a Northern Cardinal and a House Sparrow
A Heated Dispute Between a Northern Cardinal and a House Sparrow

Territorial Behavior over Food Sources

Birds often squabble over the food sources like bird feeders, suet, etc.  Setting up a blind near these food sources can lead to some terrific photographs of birds squabbling and competing for food.  OM Systems Pro Capture makes it easy to catch these situations by composing on a bird at a feeding location and waiting for another bird to enter the scene.  Make sure you keep enough room in your composition to capture the entire bird entering the frame.

Olive Sparrow Taking a Bath
Olive Sparrow Taking a Bath

Bathing in the Pond or Bird Bath

When birds take a bath, they spray water everywhere.  This can make for some terrific photographs.  The challenge is how to capture this behavior while still getting an in focus shot of the birds head with their eyes open.  Once again, high frame rates and Pro Capture can help to capture this moment.  For bathing bird photographs, be prepared for a low keeper rate even with Pro Capture.

Nashville Warbler - High Stepping
Nashville Warbler – High Stepping

Taking Steps

A bird taking steps seems like a pretty normal activity, however a high stepping bird can provide some comical bird photographs.

Nest Building

One of the most common activities for birds in the spring is nest building.  I like to capture birds carrying nesting materials or building the nest itself.  The interaction between the male and female birds can also be interesting to photograph.

Squabble Between a Northern Cardinal and a White-crowned Sparrow
Squabble Between a Northern Cardinal and a White-crowned Sparrow

Pro Capture Tips

  • Use the fastest frames per second that still focuses in between frames. You’ll come home with a lot of photos, but you’ll have a better chance to capture the entire action sequence. With the OM-1, I use Pro Capture SH2 at 50 fps.
  • Program your Pro Capture settings on a Custom Dial Function.  This allows you to quickly switch to Pro Capture mode when you see an opportunity to capture bird behavior.
  • Bring an extra battery or two. Continuously using Pro Capture will more quickly drain your battery.
  • Use fast SD cards that have a UHS-II Bus Interface and USH Speed Class of 3 for higher data transfer rates.  When you are shooting at a high frame rate like 50 fps for Pro Capture SH2, the buffer can quickly back up on the camera.  Faster SD cards will help to offset this buffer back up.
  • Also make sure to bring plenty of extra SD cards as they will fill up quickly.
  • Leave enough room in the frame to capture the bird’s behavior.  Birds can move really quickly, and can be out of your frame in just a couple exposures even a fast shutter speed.  You may need to guess which direction the bird will travel and leave extra room on that side of the frame.  Based on observing the birds behavior, you should be able to make an educated guess at the direction the bird will move.
  • When setting up your Sequential Shooting Settings for Pro Capture, set the majority of your frames on the Pre-shutter frames.  It is most likely that the behavior you are trying to capture will occur before you press the shutter button.  Setting the total frame count (Frame Count Limiter) will be dependent on the subject / behavior you are trying to capture and how many photos you want to cull when you return home.
  • Ensure your ISO is high enough for a fast shutter speed.  For smaller birds, I like to have the shutter speed at 1/2000 of a second as a minimum. A shutter speed higher is even better, and is necessary for small, fast birds like hummingbirds. You can also use the auto ISO feature in Olympus / OM System cameras to automatically adjust the ISO to get the desired shutter speed.

Written by Martin Belan

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  • Derek Deewey-Leader

    Thank you Martin for really practical and useful advice shooting at high speed in often diffiult situations. Most helpful, This will rapidly become my shooting routine.

  • Richard

    Fantastic images Martin – I have also been exploring pro-capture on my E-M1X and delighted at the keepers, though less so , with sorting through huge frame numbers generated. My only concern is whether repeated use of ProCapture can lead to premature shutter failure – I believe the E-M1X value is 400k shutter activations, so maybe just nothing to worry about but is this possible? Mine already 2nd hand and I haven’t check shutter count
    Enjoying your blogs from the New Forest in UK.

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