Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Swift and the Swallow

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In the Field

The Swift and the Swallow. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. June 1, 2016.

Like almost all wildlife photographers, I like to see a good full-frame closeup shot of...well...almost any wild animal. But, I also love a good scene that includes wildlife in it, even if the animals are very small in the scene. And, as my appreciation for such scenes (or "animalscapes") has grown over the years, I have found myself actively watching for them and seeking them out more and more. Surprisingly, it can be really, really hard to break out of the "closer is better" mentality and tunnel-vision - and until you do so it can be really hard to even SEE great animalscapes (or, I suppose in this case, "birdscapes"). Of course, you sure can't shoot animalscape shots if you can't see 'em!

I shot this image from a Zodiac during my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2016. At the time (as almost always when I'm leading a photo tour) I was in the BACK of the Zodiac. There was a bear off the front end of the boat and virtually everyone was (quite understandably) photographing the bear. I was partially blocked from seeing the bear, so I was looking around for alternate scenes. When I looked directly backwards I saw this classic scene with two species of aerial insectivores (a Vaux's Swift on the left and a Barn Swallow on the right) hawking insects. Given the bear was staying put off the front of the boat, I had time to frame the scene just the way I wanted and wait until the birds flew into the position I wanted them in for my intended composition.

The trickiest part of capturing this image was getting the tiny birds in focus (rather than the background trees). In this case I picked an object at the approximate distance that I thought would match the distance to the birds, focused on that spot, locked focus, recomposed the shot as seen above, and waited (and waited, and waited). It took more than a few minutes (and more than a few frames!), but the shot came together as I hoped it would.

Animalscapes don't do well when seen in smaller sizes, so here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of this shot for your perusal:

The Swift and the Swallow: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is 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. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

Behind the Camera

The Swift and the Swallow. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. June 1, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2500.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 210mm. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. Optical stabilization on and in "OS1" mode.

1/400s @ f8; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Swift and the Swallow. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. June 1, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.45 stop total difference between the variants), shadow retrieval settings, noise reduction settings, and clarity settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, selective contrast tweaks (using two curves adjustment layers), and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Swift and the Swallow. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. June 1, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Barn Swallow - Threatened; Vaux's Swift: Unknown with no assigned conservation status.

The Vaux's Swift (Chaetura vauxi) is a slightly smaller version of the closely-related Chimney Swift. It is known for its quick flight and amazing aerial agility - it feeds exclusively on aerial "plankon" via the hawking of ants, bugs, flies, moths, spiders and more. The Vaux's Swift seldom perches and is thought to mate on the wing (while in flight).

The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is the most widely distributed and abundant swallow in the world. It is one of the few species of wildlife that has, until recently, dramatically benefited from its association with humans through "expropriating" human-made structures and buildings for nesting purposes. Today, only a small percentage of Barn Swallows use natural structures as building sites for their nests.

Sadly, in Canada the group to which swifts and swallows belong - the aerial insectivores - have undergone dramatic recent declines in population size, with the group as a whole down almost 70% compared to 4 decades ago. Barn Swallows - listed as threatened in Canada by COSEWIC (but lacking ANY listed conservation status by the SARA [the Species At Risk Act] Public Registry) are down in population by a shocking 76% over the last 40 years. The population trends of Vaux's Swift are not known, but are thought to be in rapid decline as well (and have not been awarded any official conservation status by either COSEWIC or SARA). According to the State of Canada's Birds 2012 report, the likely reason for the sharp decline in the populations of Canada's aerial insectivores is because of reductions in insect numbers, habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change.

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

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