Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Flight & Motion

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In the Field

Flight & Motion. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

Back in late November of 2016 I went along with an intrepid group of photographers on a reconnaissance tour of the region in and around Haines, Alaska to check out its potential as a future photo tour. For those that don't know, this region is home to the largest concentration of Bald Eagles in the world...

Anyway...the key point is that we had the opportunity to photograph a LOT of eagles, including capturing a lot of those good ol' BIF (Bird In Flight) shots (perhaps in this case I should call them EIF shots?). Talk about good practice!

Probably the most basic creative decision faced by anyone shooting moving subjects (or "action") is whether they want to absolutely "freeze" the action or use a motion blur. Ironically, neither extreme usually looks exactly as your eye saw it - if you freeze the action with a very high shutter speed (e.g., 1/2000s) you're likely to see way more detail than you saw and if you blur the action while panning with a low shutter speed (e.g., 1/60s like I used here) the final image can look COMPLETELY unlike what you saw.

In my opinion pulling off a successful motion blur is WAY harder than effectively freezing the action. My personal preference (= NOT a rule!) with motion blur shots is that SOME parts of the subject have to be very sharp (to act as an eyeball magnet for the viewer!) and other parts "pleasingly" blurred in a manner that implies motion. For ME, the tension (which is part of what I refer to as the visual contrast that's found in most powerful imagery) between the sharp regions and the softer, blurred regions is often what makes the shot work. Choosing the right shutter speed to allow that sharp/soft contrast is the hard part of the equation - and it varies with a LOT of factors (including speed of the subject, distance to the subject, camera resolution, and more!).

In this shot I focused on the head of the eagle as it flew directly at me, and held that focus (with the help of my D500's 25-point Dynamic Area focus mode that helps track the focus even if the head strays from the focus point I had chosen) as it turned and then flew across the scene directly in front of me. Of course I was panning at the time.

At the instant I took this shot the eagle "blinked" its partly opaque nictitating membrane (AKA 3rd eyelid which helps moisten and protect the eye), giving it an almost "eerie" look. I have to admit that I'm torn about whether or not I like this aspect of the image!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this adult Bald Eagle in flight:

Flight & Motion: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.6 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is 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. This image was captured while sussing out a new area for possible inclusion in a future photo tour. As of this writing (February 23, 2017) it is LIKELY that it will be added to the 2017 Photo Tour schedule - final decision will be made by the end of April 2017. Keep an eye on the Photo Tours page of this website for more details...

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations or sounds).

Behind the Camera

Flight & Motion. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 640.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 500mm f4G VR lens. Hand-held. VR On and in Normal Mode.

1/60s @ f5.6; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting. 25-point Dynamic area AF mode.

At the Computer

Flight & Motion. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.4 stop total difference between the variants) and shadow recovery settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, minor saturation adjustment, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Flight & Motion. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

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

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).

While Bald Eagles are currently not under the threat of extinction, they do, of course, require suitable breeding habitat to continue to thrive. The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of one of Canada's most unique ecosystems - The Great Bear Rainforest. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

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