In a previous post, Waiting for a Kingfisher, I wrote that I wanted to photograph a kingfisher in flight. On Sunday, 21 December 2014, the bird reappeared at its hunting site, and I was able to take a few photos.
This bird typically hunts from a rock along a shallow stretch of Yasugawa a few hundred meters upstream from Yasugawa Ohashi, the Japan Route 8 bridge between Ritto City and Yasu City in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. It sits for a while, from a few seconds to twenty minutes or longer, and then suddenly flies up over the river, darts to the left or right, and hovers. Just as suddenly it dives into the water, eyes on its prey as it falls.
Catching a kingfisher in flight presents two interesting challenges. First is just finding the bird after it leaves its resting spot. So far I’ve been unable to predict the direction the kingfisher will take after it rises up to begin hovering. First it goes straight up, and then it sometimes darts to the right, sometimes to the left. It seems to rise to a similar height each time, so I am learning how far to tilt the camera. Panning is harder to anticipate.
The second challenge is trying to keep up with the bird’s dive and catch. The transition from hover to dive can occur suddenly at any time. On December 21st I was able to take photos of two catches after the bird emerged from the river, but I saw only one dive.
I took these photos with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and an old (1986) OM-System Zuiko Auto-T 300mm/f4 manual focus lens with an OM Adapter MF-2. I tried a few shots with the digital teleconverter, which effectively doubles the focal length, but I could not follow the bird at that magnification. Most photos were taken at ISO 200 although I had to use ISO 400 when the sky became overcast. Exposure was 1/400 sec at f8 or f5.6. I prefer to use this lens at f11, where it seems sharpest, or even f16 for a more forgiving depth of field. The camera is mounted on a Velbon Sherpa 545 II tripod with a Velbon FHD-65D fluid head made for DSLR video. The fluid head enables me to tilt and pan while keeping the camera firmly mounted and level.
I think the next challenge is a full action sequence: resting, rising, hovering, diving, entering the water, emerging with a fish, flying back to base, eating, and back to resting. For that I may need to shoot movies. Probably it will take a while.