Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Black Oystercatcher - Simply Serene. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 8 April 2019.

I'm often asked about what are my favourite wildlife photography "moments" or experiences. I can't think of single one that stands out more than the others, but ONE thing I REALLY like is when I finish a shooting session and my subject is as calm or calmer than when I started. And that was definitely the case with this Black Oystercatcher - about half way through the time we were working with it he (or she) tucked its brilliant red bill into the feathers on its back and it went into major rest mode! Gotta like that!

I captured this shot using a Nikon D500 and the Nikkor 500mm f5.6 PF super-telephoto lens. One question I've been regularly getting about this lens is "...we know it's sharp, but with an f5.6 maximum aperture can you effectively isolate the subject from the background and produce those beautifully smooth out-of-focus backgrounds with it?"

The short answer: YES.

The longer answer: Yes, but just like with "faster" f4 500mm lenses the most critical thing in producing those great out-of-focus backgrounds isn't the maximum aperture of the lens (or even the aperture you capture the image at) - the most critical thing is the distance "ratio" between you and the subject and the subject to its background. If they're close to the same (or if the subject is way closer to the background than YOU are to it) - you're hooped with any lens (and won't get the great backgrounds). BUT, if you can position yourself such that you are closer to the subject than it is to the background then you'll be able to product those buttery smooth backgrounds.

Given that the 500mm f5.6 PF is very, very sharp when shot wide open, you don't have to stop the lens down at all to get sharp shots, and THIS also contributes to the ability of the lens to isolate subjects from their backgrounds.

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this very relaxed but striking shorebird:

Black Oystercatcher - Simply Serene: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.3 MB)


1. This image was captured during our "Pacific Rim Explorer" photo tour in April of 2019. Each year I offer photo tours into several different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well trips to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes in locations on Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as Dall Sheep, Bald Eagles, and more. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

2. 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!

3. Like all wildlife photographs on this website, this image was 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

Black Oystercatcher - Simply Serene. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 8 April 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1100.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 500mm f4E PF. Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode.

1/800s @ f6.3; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Black Oystercatcher - Simply Serene. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 8 April 2019.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot included modifications to noise reduction and highlights. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 5 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) noise reduction, sharpening, curves, clarity, and shadow recovery.

Photoshop adjustments were limited to image re-sizing, conversion of Prophoto RGB colour gamut (to sRGB), final sharpening for online display, and insertion of watermark.


Black Oystercatcher - Simply Serene. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 8 April 2019.

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

The Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani) is a highly conspicuous member of rocky intertidal communities along the west coast of North America. It is fully dependent on marine shorelines for its food and nesting. The Black Oystercatcher is a monogamous, long-lived bird and breeding pairs establish well-defined, composite feeding and nesting territories. They generally occupy the same territory year after year, often along gravel or rocky shorelines where intertidal prey are easily found. Pairs nest just above the high-tide line and use the intertidal zone to feed themselves and provision their chicks. Diets of adults and chicks consist mainly of molluscs; principally mussels and limpets (and, interestingly, not just oysters!).

Throughout its range the Black Oystercatcher is uncommon and patchily distributed. Western hemisphere population probably <11,000 individuals. Species is regularly recorded on only small numbers of Christmas Bird Counts in Alaska, British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington.

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