Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Ram on Snow

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In the Field

Ram on Snow. Columbia Valley, BC, Canada. January 27, 2017.

One of the things I do when I"m field-testing a piece of equipment is go out and "just shoot with it". This shot of a young Bighorn Sheep ram came when I was "just shooting" with the Sigma Sport 500mm f4 super-telephoto lens. There are two separate herds of bighorns that reside year-round within about 30 minutes of my home and they make great (and quite convenient) test subjects! During earlier and more rigorous and controlled testing of the Sigma 500 I found that it and the Nikkor 500mm f4E VR super-telephoto were virtually identical optically. It was nice to see that this strong test result for the Sigma lens under controlled conditions translated into excellent performance when working under more haphazard real-world field conditions - this shot was a quick, hand-held grab shot and I can"t imagine how it could be much sharper!

In my view one of the most important aspects of making a wildlife portrait "work" is to get the depth of field (or DoF) right. In general, you want the critical parts of your subject's head sharp - and you often want other elements in the frame softly out-of-focus. Just how much has to be sharp will vary with your subject - in this case the subject has a pretty impressive set of horns, and I felt it was important to show good detail on them (including the annular rings that are clearly visible on this guy). At the same time I wanted the background snow (which was quite close behind the subject as it stood on a steep slope) rendered with little or no detail. So in this case the problem to solve was to keep that closely positioned background softly out-of-focus but the whole head of the ram (including the nose tip and the horns) in focus. to solve the problem? Well...a real good piece of information to "keep in your pocket" is that with virtually any telephoto longer than about 180mm your DoF is distributed 50:50 behind and in-front of the subject. Given I was shooting a 500mm lens I was certain my DoF would be split I chose a moderate aperture (f7.1) that would have a fairly thin DoF with this close subject, but made sure I focused at a point where the nose AND horns would be end up in focus. In this case that meant about 1/2 way up the snout (half way between the white nose and a line connecting the two eyes). If, instead, I had focused on the eyes (which so many seem to recommend), odds are my DoF would have extended into space BEHIND the ram, and the nose would have been soft. And, if I tried to "offset" that mis-positioned DoF by stopping down more to extend the DoF forward to the nose and mouth, odds are the background would have been noticeably more detailed (and distracting) as well.

Just another "real world" thing to think about when you next run into an opportunity to shoot a portrait in the field! ;-)

And for those who want to do a little pixel-peeping, here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this handsome Bighorn Ram:

Ram on Snow: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.5 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. 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

Ram on Snow. Columbia Valley, BC, Canada. January 27, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 320.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 500mm f4. Hand-held. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with OS1 stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

1/500s @ f7.1; +0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Ram on Snow. Columbia Valley, BC, Canada. January 27, 2017.

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 (0.33 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, selective contrast work (via two curves adjustment layers) and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Ram on Snow. Columbia Valley, BC, Canada. January 27, 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.

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) are considered by many to be a symbol of mountain wilderness. They are distributed throughout much of the mountainous areas of western North America from central British Columbia south to northern Mexico. Local distribution of Bighorns appears to be limited by the availability of suitable foraging areas near "escape" terrain (cliffs or very steep terrain where they can escape predators).

This male Bighorn was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is not currently considered at risk, many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from logging operations.

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