Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Tree Swallow - First Light of Day

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In the Field

Tree Swallow - First Light of Day. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 28, 2023.

While formally trained in ornithology, I don't think of myself as a bird photographer - I'm a wildlife photographer. But I'm a wildlife photographer who happens to think of wild birds as if I run across an opportunity to capture an interesting photo of a wild bird in good light of course I take advantage of it! And, if you ask me, catching a male Tree Swallow on a snag like this one - right when the first sunbeams of the day are just starting to "kiss" it from the side - is a real good wildlife photo opportunity!

Of course, capturing this image wasn't the result of a random "point and shoot" encounter - this male Tree Swallow is half of a breeding pair that has a nest very close to this snag (located on our acreage in the East Kootenays of BC). I have been following the progress of this breeding pair since early in their nesting cycle, but waited until the second half of the nestling phase before I started photographing them. And, by the time I captured this image I knew at precisely what time the rising sun first struck the snag each morning (0646 on the day of this image). And I knew the precise angle I wanted to shoot the image from to produce just the right side-lighting effect and the dark background tones. some ways it was still a very lucky shot - the bird had to go to snag at exact right time, then it had to pose in a way where light strikes it perfectly from the side, then it had to perch upright enough to allow my DoF to capture ALL of it in sharp focus, and then it had to give me just a great head turn with the right eye contact, yada, yada, yada! But, like with most wildlife shots, it's a "a very lucky shot" where the photographer (yours truly) greatly increased his/her chances of getting the shot. I guess you could say the 1/125s I used to capture this shot took was a VERY long 1/125s (it took several weeks to plan, reconnoiter, and eventually execute)! Yes, wildlife photography eats up a lot of time!

I captured this image with a Nikon Z 9 and a Nikkor Z 800mm f6.3S lens. One of the things I learned early in my testing of this lens is that if you are using it with even reasonably close subjects (be it for portraits of larger animals or shots of small birds like this one) you just have to stop WAY down to have enough DoF to cover your subject. This shot? F13. And I had JUST enough DoF to make this shot work (some post-processing magic was required to extract the detail in the most distal tips of the wings). On a related note...I'm finding with my Z 9 and all my Z lenses - and when using modern raw processing software (including Capture One and DxO PhotoLab) - any diffraction-induced image softening associated with using small apertures is pretty much a non-issue...even at f13.

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this handsome Tree Swallow for your perusal:

Tree Swallow - First Light of Day: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 5.3 MB)


1. These images - in all resolutions - are protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all photographs on this website, these images were captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Tree Swallow - First Light of Day. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 28, 2023.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 2000.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 800mm f6.3S. Supported on Jobu Algonquin tripod with Jobu HD Mk IV gimbal head. VR on in Sport mode. Single-point AF area mode.

1/125s @ f13; -0.7 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Tree Swallow - First Light of Day. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 28, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and capture sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 6.7 Elite.

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 6.7) and conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use) - including all global and selective adjustments - made using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. In the case of this image the global adjustments included a general contrast adjustment (Levels adjustment), a tweak to brightness, and a tweak to the highlights. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case small adjustments were made on 8 separate layers and ALL were under the general umbrella of "exposure balancing", with one or more highly targeted and selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), the highlights, blacks, and shadows. There were no enhancements to the colour saturation of this image during post-processing.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Tree Swallow - First Light of Day. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 28, 2023.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

The Tree Swallow (Tacycineta bicolor) is a common insect-eating aerobatic specialist found across much of North America. Tree Swallows nest in abandoned cavities in trees or in nest boxes provided for them by humans. The breeding range of the Tree Swallow is expanding southward and overall their populations appear to be increasing.

This Tree Swallow was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays of British Columbia, Canada. While this species is not currently considered at risk in this region, virtually all of Canada's aerial insectivores (to which the Tree Swallow is a member) have been exhibiting steep population declines in recent years. While the cause isn't fully understood, many believe that changes to the seasonality of their insect prey (including changes to when they are available in large numbers as prey) is thought to be the proximate cause of the decline. Many believe that this change in the seasonal abundance of their prey is being driven by climate change.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada