Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Stalker of the Shadows

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In the Field

Stalker of the Shadows. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 1, 2009.

This is a shot of one of my favourite birds of prey - a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Sharp-shins are smallish accipters (total height of about 10-12", including their very long tail) that feed almost exclusively on small birds. One of their favourite methods of hunting is to hide quietly near the trunk of a tree and spring out of the shadows and surprise their prey. Given their propensity to hide in the boughs and branches of trees, they can be very tough species to photograph, especially when they're sitting on their preferred perches. I was fortunate with this shot to have enough light striking the sharpie while most of the frame was in the shadows. While some may argue that the background is "too busy" and/or distracting to be a "good" bird image (by someone else's arbitrary standard), I quite like the background and overall scene - it shows the hawk in the environment in which it spends the bulk of its existence.

High-quality images of wildlife are almost always the result of a LOT of work, especially when taken in the wild (as opposed to in zoos or game farms). Between the reconnaissance work to find your subject, planning the shot, waiting for the subject to appear, getting the right light, etc., there's usually a pretty big investment of time and energy. The chances of a fortuitous "lucky grab" of a random encounter producing a decent image are very low. Until the morning of April 1, 2009 I don't ever recall it happening to me. On that morning I was walking around my home office (located in our elevated loft) chatting on the phone when I happened to glance out one of my windows. At that very moment this Sharp-shin flew up and perched in a nearby Douglas Fir. Fortunately, I had a camera sitting nearby with a long telephoto mounted on it. I quickly slapped on a 1.4x teleconverter, opened the window, balanced camera and lens on the window sill (on a foam pad), made a few quick exposure adjustments, and "snapped" this image! The funniest thing is that I did all this without an interruption to my phone call (I had a headset on) AND the person on the other end had no idea at all that anything had happened! Finally - after years of keeping a camera handy and "always ready to go" it paid off!

Behind the Camera

Stalker of the Shadows. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 1, 2009.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 400.

Nikon D3 with AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G IF-ED II VR lens paired with Nikon TC-14EII (1.4x) teleconverter (total focal length equivalent of 840 mm) - supported on foam pad resting on window sill. VR turned to "On" and in "Tripod" mode. Autofocus set to M/a mode.

1/320s @ f7.1; no compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Stalker of the Shadows. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 1, 2009.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening and shadow/highlight adjustments using Phase One's Capture One Pro 4.6.2. Five RAW conversions at different exposure settings: -2.5 stops for background highlights through to +1.25 stops to recover shadow detail on head.

Further digital corrections on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS4. Adjustments included compositing and masking of 5 exposure versions, selective colour saturation, and selective sharpening for web output.


Stalker of the Shadows. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 1, 2009.

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

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

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipter striatus) is the smallest of our North American accipters. While this forest-dwelling predator will eat small mammals and even insects, it's diet consists almost completely of small birds. The sharp-shin has an extremely wide distribution and can be found through most of Alaska, virtually all of southern Canada and the continental US, and even throughout much of Latin America.

This Sharp-shinned Hawk was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is not considered at risk in any way, many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure. While Sharp-shinned Hawks are not directly threatened in the Columbia Valley, they do, of course, need appropriate habitat in order to continue to thrive. Wildsight is an effective conservation organization that protects biodiversity and promotes sustainable communities in Canada's Columbia and Rocky Mountains. Support for Wildsight, through donation or becoming a member, will help ensure that they remain effective in their efforts to conserve threatened or endangered species and ecosystems.

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