I have to admit, I have a soft spot for owls. Something about them gets me fired up like no other bird. But simply because they’re one of the coolest looking subjects doesn’t necessarily mean good photos are easy to come by - at least two challenges commonly stand in the way: low light conditions, and distance. And if video footage is of interest, how can we create captivating footage of a bird that hardly moves during shooting hours?

With several owl adventures lined up, I was very excited to put to use the low shutter speed, high zoom, and slow-motion features of the OM-1 and M. Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f4.5 TC 1.25X IS PRO.

owl flying over snow
OM SYSTEM OM-1 | M. Zuiko 150-400mm f4.5 IS PRO
ISO 500 | 438mm | f5.6 | 1/2500 sec

First up: Great Gray Owls in the Canadian Rockies

These majestic owls are quite active during dawn and dusk, but proximity was a problem; in many cases, I found them hunting far out in a meadow. The 800mm (equivalent) zoom with an additional 1.25x from the built in teleconverter was absolutely key in giving me the reach I needed to capture my personal favorite shot of the trip. 

OM SYSTEM OM-1 | M. Zuiko 150-400mm f4.5 IS PRO
ISO 500 | 500mm | f5.0 | 1/2500 sec

In order to capture shots like these, I spent large amounts of time holding focus on the owl awaiting its flight. Setting up a tripod each time is not the quickest method to get prepared, which is why I prefer a handheld method. The OM-1 and M. Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f4.5 TC 1.25X IS PRO is shockingly lightweight which made handholding a breeze. They are so much lighter than any other telephoto camera set up I’ve used that it’s actually worth mentioning as a significant feature.
Travelling next to Florida, I discovered a burrowing owl paradise - they were everywhere! I noticed they like to patrol the entrance to their burrows. By ‘patrol’ I mean stand in one position, snapping their heads back and forth as if keeping watch. Real-time footage did not convey how comical they looked, and frankly neither did footage slowed from 60p or even 120p. They swivel their heads so quickly that only in the OM-1’s super slow motion 240 FPS mode was I able to create dramatic, silky smooth footage which adequately portrays their goofy nature.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to captivate an online audience is by focusing on their nictitating membranes (inner eyelids) while slowing down footage of their head turns. Not only is zoom important from a practical standpoint, but from an ethical one: owls are a highly sensitive species, and the farther we can photograph them from the better. You can bet I took full advantage of the lens’s 1000mm (equivalent) zoom in order to create these videos.

Back at home in Ontario, the next month would continue to be full of owl action. I’m fortunate to live near the migratory path of several owl species including the highly elusive long eared owl. This is a species of owl truly considered to be nocturnal, so if you want photos of a long eared owl awake with its eyes wide open, be prepared to shoot in near darkness.

Here’s a shot I got at dusk when the owl had begun its nightly hunt:

The only reason this image could be salvaged was because of the surprisingly low shutter speed I could shoot handheld. In truth, I could have shot with an even lower shutter speed than I did and it’s taking me time to gain trust and confidence in how low I can go

long eared owl
OM SYSTEM OM-1| M. Zuiko 150-400mm f4.5 IS PRO
ISO 10,000 | 472mm | f5.0 | 1/250sec | Handheld

The camera’s low light capabilities would continue to be useful while photographing a pair of great horned owlets in their hole at dusk. It was a pretty spooky and iconic setting, actually - imagine the sight of owls living in a gnarly old tree in the middle of a cemetery at dusk with a literal full moon rising accompanied by the hooting of the parents nearby.

OM SYSTEM OM-1 | M. Zuiko 150-400mm f4.5 IS PRO
ISO 3200 | 600mm | f6.3 | 1/400sec

I felt like moody edits were best suited to portray the feeling behind this encounter:

As I sit here writing on my porch, the hummingbirds are starting to show up at the feeder so I better go keep shooting! I’m looking forward to fine tuning my use of this camera and the unique features it boasts. 

owls with yellow eyes
OM SYSTEM OM-1 | M. Zuiko 150-400mm f4.5 IS PRO
ISO 400 | 400mm | f8.0 | 1/250sec
OM SYSTEM OM-1 | M. Zuiko 150-400mm f4.5 IS PRO
ISO 1600 | 500mm | f5.6 | 1/20sec

Instagram: @myinnerwild

Chris is a wildlife photographer based in Ontario, Canada. Experiencing nature first-hand is a core value to his life and provides a necessary life balance to his day job as a paramedic. The goal with his photography is to capture the feeling behind the beauty of nature and inspire others to experience the great outdoors as well.


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