Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Meeting the Challenge

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In the Field

Meeting the Challenge. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 29, 2017.

If you're looking to predictably find and photograph dramatic action shots of Bald Eagles interacting there is nowhere better than Alaska's Chilkat River near Haines in late autumn (and I won't go into a long diatribe about how this location really SHOULD be part of Canada...but just go look at a map to see how right I am!). By late autumn almost all drainages on the northern coast of BC and Alaska are frozen over and/or their salmon runs are long over. But, the salmon are still running on the still-open Chilkat in late November and it seems that the entire Bald Eagle population of western North America knows it! The eagles are EVERYWHERE!

This is one of those "dumb luck" shots I seem to specialize in (especially the dumb part!). I had been photographing the eagle that is in flight here as it lazily flew along the river when it suddenly changed course and took a run at the perched bird (that seemed to be simply minding its own business). Given that the perched bird was doing pretty much nothing beyond sitting (and it didn't have a salmon in its claws) I assumed that the attacking bird simply envied its perch! Anyway...the perched bird rose to the occasion, met the challenge and held its ground (and kept its perch). And the cantankerous challenger continued on its way.

I captured this shot with a Nikon D5 paired up with Sigma's excellent 500mm f4 Sport lens (my extensive review of this Sigma 500, including how it stacks up against the Nikkor 500mm f4E VR, can be found right here). On this day I was shooting both a D5 and D850 and got a lot of opportunity to shoot action shots with both cameras. While the D850 is surprisingly capable of shooting action (especially for a 45.7 MP camera) I came away from this session convinced that the D5 is still undoubtedly the king of action shooting (though some Canon 1Dx MkII users would probably disagree with me). While you CAN extend the burst depth of the D850 if you choose to slowdown the camera's frame rate and/or shoot 12-bit image, the combination of faster frame rate, almost limitless burst depth when shooting 14-bit images, and (probably most importantly) the more consistent ability to rapidly attain and hold autofocus on a moving subject all contribute to the D5's superiority as a camera for capturing action shots.

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this dramatic shot for your perusal:

Meeting the Challenge: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.85 MB)


1. This image was captured during my "Kluane-Haines Explorer" Instructional photo tour in late autumn of 2017. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of 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 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/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

Meeting the Challenge. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 29, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 3200.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma 500mm f4 Sport super-telephoto. Hand-held. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with image stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF. Standard Group AF area mode ("diamond" cluster of AF points).

1/2500s @ f5; +0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Meeting the Challenge. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 29, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments using Phase One's Capture One Pro 11. Selective local adjustments accomplished using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 8 separate layers and included local/selective editing of exposure, shadow retrieval, highlight recovery, colour saturation and desaturation, colour (via the Color Editor), and contrast (via multiple curves adjustments).

Photoshop adjustments were limited to image re-sizing, final sharpening for online display, and insertion of watermark.


Meeting the Challenge. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 29, 2017.

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).

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