Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Red: Renowned Ruthless Serial Cone Killer

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In the Field

Red: Renowned Ruthless Serial Cone Killer. Findlay Creek, British Columbia. February 14, 2023.

I admit to having a bit of an obsession with Red Squirrels. Not only do these small squirrels have a pretty high "cute factor", but if you take the time to actually watch one go about its daily activities you'll see a behaviourally diverse and complex little critter. And, if you're a conifer cone...well...they can be your WORST nightmare - here a female squirrel is mercilessly ripping several Douglas Fir cones to absolute shreds! Kidding aside, Red Squirrels can be quite the little predators - a few decades back I watched one leap from the top of a small stump onto the back of a hapless Dark-eyed Junco and kill it with one quick bite to the back of its neck. It was real clear that predation wasn't at all foreign to the little red devil!

But there's another reason I'm showing this image. I've received a number of emails from folks asking me how the Z 800mm f6.3S stacks up against the Z 600mm f4S with its built-in TC engaged (so at 840mm) in the ability to isolate subjects from their respective backgrounds. Those questions ultimately stem from the fact that the two 800mm "solutions" differ in their maximum apertures, with the Z 800mm f6.3S having a maximum aperture of f6.3 (of course), and the Z 600mm f4S having a maximum aperture of f5.6 when its built-in TC is engaged. And, it's worth pointing out here that both of these lenses CAN be shot wide open and produce extremely sharp shots - so you really are looking at a "real" f6.3 vs. f5.6 difference (and how it impacts on subject isolation). the Z 600mm f4S with its built-in TC engaged better at isolating subjects than the Z 800mm f6.3S (when both are shot wide open)? Well...while in theory the Z 600mm f4S has a very slightly narrower depth of field when its built-in TC is engaged that the Z 800mm f6.3S does (and, of course, depth of field is related to effectively isolating a subject from its background), in the field there is no practical difference in their ability to isolate subjects - both are FANTASTIC at isolating a subject from their backgrounds. Functionally you have a dead-heat in the ability of these two excellent 800mm "solutions" in their ability to isolate subjects from the background.

Look up and examine this image again - it was shot with the Z 800mm f6.3S at f6.3. And it is pretty much impossible to imagine how one could get better subject isolation than this. Of course, when I shot the image I made a point of maneuvering myself to ensure there were no objects in the immediate background, which is always far more important than aperture choice in producing smooth, out-of-focus backgrounds.

The moral of the story? While there are times when having that super-wide maximum aperture can be critical in delivering a shot with great bokeh and super-soft backgrounds, if your primary goal is "isolating a subject from its background" the distance of the subject from the background is WAY more critical than the aperture you shoot the image at.

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this cheeky little beast:

Red: Renowned Ruthless Serial Cone Killer: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4.1 MB)


1. These images - in all resolutions - are protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all photographs on this website, these images were captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Red: Renowned Ruthless Serial Cone Killer. Findlay Creek, British Columbia. February 14, 2023.

Lossless compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 2200.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 800mm f6.3S. Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-tracking AF area mode with subject detection on (in Animal mode).

1/2500s @ f6.3; +1.0 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Red: Renowned Ruthless Serial Cone Killer. Findlay Creek, British Columbia. February 14, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 6 Elite.

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 6) and conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use) - including all global and selective adjustments - made using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. But in the case of this image there were no global adjustments made. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 3 separate layers and most were under the general umbrella of "exposure balancing", with one or more selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), highlights, whites, and colour saturation.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Bearing Down. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Northern Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia. June 20, 2022.

IUCN Conservation Statu**: Species of Least Concern.

The Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a medium-to-small squirrel that occupies year-round exclusive territories from which they will aggressively repel intruding squirrels. They are widely distributed across much of North America almost everywhere conifers (and the cones the squirrels feed on) are found, except on portions of the west coast where they are replaced by Douglas Squirrels (AKA "Chickarees").

Red Squirrels have adapted well to the presence of humans and have the IUCN conservation status of a species of Least Concern. In many urban areas in North America the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) have been introduced and ecologically replaced Red Squirrels. In North America this hasn't seemed to impact much on rural Red Squirrel populations, but in Britain the introduction of the Eastern Gray has had a major impact on the native Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), with the invasive grays replacing the native reds over much of their historical range.

*as determined by the IUCN: The Internation Union for Conservation of Nature - see