Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Clark's Nutcracker - Challenge!

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

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In the Field

Clark's Nutcracker - Challenge! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 24, 2005.

Clark's Nutcrackers are bold, nosey and noisy members of the jay family. They exhibit striking plumage, but not because of their colours - they are black, a perfect mid-tone of gray, and white!

This nutcracker appeared to be the dominant bird in its flock. It would chase off any other conspecific when they had the nerve to land near the food source it was ruling over. In this shot, the bird was giving me the exact look (and threat display) that it gave to rival birds!

In this shot I wanted to draw the viewer's attention to the head of the bird - specifically the beak and eyes. I chose to do this with selective focus (i.e., choosing an aperture that would produce a depth of field that kept only the bird's beak and eyes in focus). Because I was using a relatively long lens and was close to the bird, I knew I was dealing with a very shallow depth of field, at best. This meant my challenge was not to minimize the depth of field, but rather I had to EXTEND it to include both the beak and the eyes. In the end I selected a moderately small aperture to produce the effect I wanted.

Behind the Camera

Clark's Nutcracker - Challenge! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 24, 2005.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 100.

Nikon D2X with Nikon 200-400 mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S VR lens @ 280 mm (420 mm equivalent with digital conversion factor) supported on Gitzo 1348 carbon fibre tripod with Wimberley head; SB-800 flash (fill) with Better Beamer Flash Extender mounted on Really Right Stuff flash bracket. VR turned to "On" and in "Normal" mode.

1/125s @ f7.1; -0.67 stop exposure compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting; balanced i-TTL flash exposure with -0.67 stop compensation on SB-800.

At the Computer

Clark's Nutcracker - Challenge! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 24, 2005.

RAW Conversion, including first-pass sharpening, exposure compensation, and tone curve adjustment, using Phase One's C1 Pro. Multiple RAW conversions (2 at different exposure settings) to extend dynamic range of captured image, in this case primarily to restore shadow detail on bird's lower breast and belly.

All further digital correction on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS2, including compositing and masking of various exposure versions, selective saturation enhancement, and selective sharpening for web output.


Clark's Nutcracker - Challenge! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 24, 2005.

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 Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is a nosey and noisy member of the jay family and is found in coniferous forests in the mountains of North America. Clark's Nutcrackers feed primarily on pine seeds but show extreme flexibility in adapting to new food sources, including using bird feeders or robbing food from campgrounds.

This Clark's Nutcracker was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is not currently considered at risk, it is vulnerable to habitat loss due to logging activities. Many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from logging operations. 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