Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter with the Raptors

The cold and snow of winter present unique challenges to photography while at the same time providing unique opportunities to capture wildlife in their toughest time of the year.   Photographing Bald Eagles this winter has been more difficult than in recent past years.  The mass migration has been hampered a bit by water remaining open north of us until just recently.  Now that we have had a sustained cold spell and rivers and lakes are freezing completely over, Eagles are migrating to areas that have open water for fishing.  The cloudy, stormy conditions have presented challenges to photographing the eagles in flight but we have been out to enjoy viewing them as well as other wildlife over the past few weeks. I have a particular interest in raptors and we are fortunate that we have many hawks in our area that reside here year around.  Most of them are red tail hawks and it is fascinating to observe the many variations of coloring and markings on this species.

This particular one I believe is a Krider's hawk which is a variant of the Red tail Hawk.   It has the bars on the chest, but the head and tail are mostly white.

Joan captured a nice shot of a Red Tail Hawk in flight in December. Getting good crisp shots of birds in flight requires good lighting so that shutter speeds faster than 1/1000 of a second can be maintained. 

Shots like this one of a hawk emerging from its perch on top of a utility pole requires lots of patience. It is important to me to not stress a wild animal or bird while photographing them.  Hawks and Eagles will sit for extended periods resting or surveying the surroundings for food.  Patiently waiting for them to decide to fly can be rewarded by the opportunity to get a shot such as this one.

This past weekend presented many opportunities with bright skies to find hawks out looking for food.  One young hawk was so intent on his meal that he ignored me for quite some time while I was able to get some good pictures of him killing and then eating his crow.

After finishing his meal he flew to a perch to watch for more prospective meals.  I normally use aperture priority and try to keep ISO at 500 or less to maintain crispness and to be able to control depth of field.   At times-particularly for birds in flight I will use ISO 640 to 1000.  However, one must make sure that they are using a camera that can produce good images at low noise levels with higher ISO ratings (Joan and I both use Nikon D300 bodies with Nikkor lenses). Using the histograms for each picture exposure can be adjusted to keep from blowing out highlights or underexposing shadows.  Often in snow, the exposure is adjusted +.3 to +1.0 stops to keep the snow from looking gray.  One has to be careful with birds like Hawks and Eagles that contain a fair amount of white feathers to ensure that the white is not overexposed. 

1 comment:

Heather said...

This is an amazing post... so informative and stunning to look at!