Late May and early June are great times to take a walk on the beaches of Salt Spring’s western shore. The low tides approach zero which seems to encourage a burst in activity in the creatures who live there.
Two years ago to the day I was able to get a good photo of a mature Bald Eagle at Baker Beach. So this week, on my way to a job I headed down to the beach to see if the eagles were back.
Below I make a few comments and observations about capturing these types of images. But if that doesn’t interest you, feel free to just browse the photos!
I’m pretty sure this mature eagle is the same one I saw two years ago. A great flyer who was curious but very cautious around humans (with cameras).
Here’s the photo (below) from two years ago. Same ‘winglets’. I made a few errors with this image, but was fortunate with composition and being able to save it in post-production.
Obviously that’s not the way to go, but shooting in RAW format allows significant exposure latitude and sometimes can make the difference in coming away with a great shot. The problem in this photo was exposure. The eagle flew across a white and blue sky with the sun directly overhead. Cameras are trained for an average scene and will expose for a middle grey tone. Since most of the frame is bright sky, the resulting image would be a dull dark sky with a very dark bird.
There’s often not a lot of time to capture a bird in flight. But there are a few things you can do to prepare.
First, you need a long lens, something the equivalent of 500 or 600mm. This allows you to get close without getting that close. But that means you will need to be ready to track the bird going by and think about where the bird is in the frame. Composition. The rule of thirds comes into play here.
Second you could shoot in aperture priority mode with a wide aperture to eliminate or soften the background. This will help isolate what you want the viewer to see and will make the bird ‘pop’ in the photo.
Things happen quickly in action photography and it’s great if your camera can keep up. Frustrating if it can’t. Use the multiple shot feature. In theory the camera will make all the measurements for exposure, colour balance and focus several times a second. In reality there are cameras that use two computers and are able to make all the measurements and still deliver ten quality frames per second. I’m using a Canon 1DMkIV for this work.
You don’t actually shoot a series of ten or more frames every time you shoot. More like three to attempt to capture the peak moment. A surprising amount happens within that third of a second.
One of the great things about high speed capture is that although details in motion are just too fast to see, we get a chance to examine them afterward.
This immature bird was a little more daring than his parent, moving across a variety of backgrounds. And that helps give the photos impact. Hopefully this image is large enough for you to see what’s in the talons.
Below, the hills of Vancouver Island make a terrific background for this eagle descending on its prey. In order to get a good shot you need to shoot lots. Of the right stuff at the right time. And that just takes practice.
For this half hour walk along the beach I brought one lens and one camera. I knew I needed my longest lens, a heavy old 300mm f/2.8. Then I added a 1.5 extender, which converted the lens to a 450mm f4.0. And since the camera I was using has a slightly smaller than full frame sensor, the lens equivalent was about 585mm.
I wanted the image as sharp as possible, so I stopped down to f/4.5. And I wanted to stop the motion of the eagle flying across the frame. In order to get at least 1/1000 of a second, I needed to set the ISO (film speed) to 400.
Lastly I shot in aperture mode, quickly adjusting the exposure compensation dial, depending on where the light was coming from and how light or dark the background was.
After providing a few chances for getting photos, this Bald Eagle flashed me the high-five. I took that as a see-you-later.