Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Locked On Target

Availability: Limited Edition Print; RM Stock (??)

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In the Field

Locked On Target. Columbia Valley Wetlands, BC, Canada. April 3, 2008

I'm not sure who was more focused when I captured this image - the eagle on me, or me on the eagle! This was a very special moment - the eagle was flying directly at me with its wings absolutely horizontal when I first focused my camera on its head. Just as I was about to start shooting the eagle flipped its wings to a nearly vertical position while keeping its head close to level. It never took its eyes of me during the maneuver. The uncropped image does contain both wing tips - I chose to crop more closely for this presentation to show head detail (see 2nd paragraph below for rationale).

This image is very close to what I was hoping to capture when I started scouting out locations to photograph migrating eagles about 5 weeks before this image was captured. My goal was to capture an eagle flying directly at me - and I wanted to keep the ENTIRE bird (beak to tail tip) in sharp focus. To do this with a telephoto lens I knew I would need to use both a moderately small aperture AND a very fast shutter speed. When I went through the process of evaluating what combination of my available equipment would be best suited to the task I knew there was only one camera option - my D3 (for its autofocus speed, its high frame rate and, most importantly, its amazing performance at high ISO settings). Because I was still awaiting delivery of my 500 f4 VR I had only one viable lens option - my 300 f2.8 VR with a 1.4x teleconverter. I reckoned that because I planned on using a moderately small aperture (f8) I would be able to squeeze enough performance out of the teleconverter to produce an image sufficiently sharp to please me. I was right - in fact, the 300 2.8 with 1.4x teleconverter on the D3 outperformed my D300 with the same lens (no teleconverter) by a wide margin. I hate to sound like a voice piece for Nikon (I receive no sponsorship or preferential treatment from Nikon), but lately Nikon has been using the taglines "Defy Limitations" and "Do the Undoable" in their marketing of the D3. I can honestly say that I could not have captured this image (with beak to tail-tip sharpness) with any Nikon (or Canon??) camera prior to the D3.

A final comment on the cropping of this image. I've seen many fine photographers make excellent images look pretty bad on the web. The wingtip to wingtip version of the image looks great as a 15" by 22" print (and, surprise, surprise, I make it available in this size as a Limited Edition print). But, even with a 750 pixel height, it REALLY loses its impact when you present it online in the wingtip to wingtip version (see 750 pixel wingtip to wingtip version). Take home lesson? You REALLY have to consider your output type (web vs. print vs. book, etc.) when choosing the most effective crop of your images. And...CUT - DON'T CLIP: if you're going to cut off a portion of an animal (like this eagle's wings), make sure you really cut them off (and not just clip a little of the ends off).

Behind the Camera

Locked On Target. Columbia Valley Wetlands, BC, Canada. April 3, 2008

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 800.

Nikon D3 with Nikon 300mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR lens with Nikon TC-14E11 1.4x teleconverter (420 mm equivalent) - handheld. VR turned to "On" and in "Normal" mode. Autofocus: 51-point Dynamic-area AF with centre-most focus bracket selected for initial focus.

1/3200s @ f8; no compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Locked On Target. Columbia Valley Wetlands, BC, Canada. April 3, 2008

RAW Conversion to 16 bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening, exposure compensation, and slight shadow/highlight adjustment using Phase One's Capture One 4. Multiple RAW conversions (2 at different exposure settings) in this case to draw out on shadow detail on underside of the eagle's wing (see below).

Further digital correction on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS3. Photoshop adjustments included compositing and masking of two exposure versions (at +0.3 stop for entire image and +0.7 stop for underwing detail). Other Photoshop adjustments included selective curves adjustment, selective saturation enhancement, selective application of cooling filter (sky had extrremely thin, wispy clouds when shot was taken) and selective sharpening for web output.


Locked On Target. Columbia Valley Wetlands, BC, Canada. April 3, 2008

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 Bald Eagle was listed as "Endangered" in the contiguous US states from 1967 to 1995. In 1995 it was downlisted to "Threatened". On June 28, 2007 Bald Eagles were removed from the list of endangered and threatened species - a true American conservation success story.

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a very large bird of prey with broad wings. Adults possess characteristic white ("bald") heads. It takes Bald Eagles a full five years to attain their characteristic adult plumage (including their nearly pure white head and tail). In the years prior to the development of their adult plumage they are easy to confuse with Golden Eagles. Being very broad-winged Bald Eagles are able to use an energy-efficient flapping-soaring style of flight. While many people like to think of the Bald Eagle as a fierce hunter, in reality they hunt only as a last resort. More commonly they scavenge for their prey. Additionally, they often klepto-parasitize other weaker species such as Osprey, commonly stealing the other species hard-earned prey items. The Bald Eagle is, of course, the national emblem of the United States (Benjamin Franklin argued against this - his preference was for the Wild Turkey).

This Bald Eagle was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While Bald Eagles are currently not under the threat of extinction, they do, of course, require suitable breeding habitat to continue to thrive. Many ecosystems - including Bald Eagle breeding areas - within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from both logging operations and human population growth. 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