Last week I had the opportunity to photograph swallow tail kites. My friend Dick, over at DVWildlife Tours, has a great tour on a lake here in FL, and there are literally thousands of these birds that come in this time of year.

It was a fun outing and a little different too. First, the birds tend to “sleep in”, so you don’t have to be out right at sunrise (always a plus). Next, unlike osprey and eagles which I’ve photographed in this area before, these birds swoop down toward the water to drink – not catch fish. So it was a lot of fun to witness the behavior and try to get some photos while we were at it.

Sony Alpha 1 + 200-600mm lens: f/6.3 | 1/3200th | ISO 1250

Not Without It’s Challenges

The outing wasn’t without it’s challenges though. These birds are smaller than your usual osprey and eagle and moved more erratically. So they were a little harder to follow around. They’re also mostly black except their heads and underside. When you put a dark bird up against the trees in the background it fools the auto focus quite a bit.

So the key was to try to acquire focus on a bird early, and just keep your finger pressed halfway down on the shutter and follow them while it was higher in the sky, in hopes that was a bird that was going to hit the water – unfortunately many of them also just flew around, so you’d follow the bird for a while for nothing. (Side Note: yes, I said finger pressed halfway down on the shutter. I don’t use back button focus for several reasons that I’ll mention at some point on the blog, but I’ve also got a big topic on it coming in my upcoming Bird Photography course).

Also, we were fairly unlucky with the light. By the time they were hitting the water, the sun was pretty high up there and barely any clouds to diffuse the light which made overall exposure tough (bright white spots and dark dark areas as well).

But when they did hit the water, it was a lot of fun to see. Especially when you get to zoom in and watch the water coming out of their mouth 🙂

Sony Alpha 1 + 200-600mm lens: f/6.3 | 1/3200th | ISO 640
Sony Alpha 1 + 200-600mm lens: f/6.3 | 1/3200th | ISO 640
Sony Alpha 1 + 200-600mm lens: f/6.3 | 1/3200th | ISO 800

Settings and Post Processing

For this outing I used my Sony Alpha 1 with the 200-600m lens. I had my camera set to AF-C, Center Zone Focus Area, Manual Exposure mode with Auto ISO turned on, as well as the zebras turned on in camera to help with exposure. The “zebra” setting was helpful to see if the heads were over exposed and I usually dialed down 2/3 stop or so on my Exposure compensation for it.

Post processing was done in Lightroom for exposure, color and toning corrections and Topaz Sharpen AI for some quick sharpening and noise reduction. (more on Topaz here)

As always my editing is covered in my Wildlife Editing Secrets Course. Also, you can find links to all of my gear, computers, hard drives, etc… over on the Gear page which can be clicked on in the top menu (or just click here). And it’s always appreciated if you use the links on that page (even if you’re not purchasing that specific item) when buying anything. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it’ll help me out a bit 🙂

Thanks and enjoy!


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