A barking owl in flight – straight at me!

I have photographed Millie the barking owl before, but this sequence is just a bit different. I was in the back row of the audience, but I got a real close-up of the action.

I was trying out my brand-new Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II at a bird flight show. I may show you some more images from this shoot later, but I thought you’d like this sequence. It was bright Australian sunshine, with next to no clouds in sight. Perfect conditions for photographing birds. To make it even easier for the A1, this is a barking owl with big eyes, open wide, fully in view. But to make it more difficult, I’m shooting wide open (f/2.8), and she is getting rapidly closer in every frame. The frames below are shot with the lens at 100mm, f/2.8, 1/2000, starting at ISO 200 and dropping to ISO 160 about half-way.

One thing that this sequence shows well is how rapidly the background (sometimes referred to as “the bird trainer”) blurs as focus shortens.

Here is the sequence in a gallery that you can click on to see the details – these are 21 consecutive images, shot at 20 frames per second, so you are seeing about 1 second of flight here. None of these frames have been cropped.

Yes, those last three frames are blurred. That’s because Millie was closer than the minimum focus distance of this lens. The Mark II has improved the minimum focus distance to 40cm (down from 96cm on the Mark I version), but you can see that focus is on her chest and the leading edge of her wings in the third last shot, on the rear of her wings in the second last shot, and well, nothing in the last frame as she passes very close overhead. Eek!

I’m impressed by this lens. It is light enough that it’s easy to hold for this sequence (and many more this day). It is very sharp, and focus is instantaneous.