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More Eagles!
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More Eagles!

by Gerald Janauer on April 13, 2010

We have had more visits from the bald eagles at our pond in the last weeks.  This is some consolation, as our beavers have left the area and the dam has broken and the pond has been draining.  Even the ducks and geese are less ubiquitous than they were earlier in the spring when the water levels were higher.

Still, seeing the eagles is a real treat.  The two eagles on the pond on April 3rd were both juveniles, and one of the two birds appears to have been banded.  As I was photographing the first bird - sitting on a stump in our mostly empty pond - the second one flew.  I have had very little success photographing flying birds, but I keep trying.

At this point in the day the light was very poor.  The sun had set behind our hill and the sky was overcast, so there was not much light.  I knew that I would need a pretty fast shutter speed and that my bird would be underexposed against the relatively bright sky, but I fired away anyhow.  My D300 ISO was set at 800 and I was using my longest telephoto lens, the slow focusing 80-400 VR (see review elsewhere on this site).  This lens performs best at 300 mm, not out to 400 mm, and also does a bit better if stopped down to f/8 at the long end.  Using ISO 800 allowed me to get a shutter speed of  1/1000 of a second at f/8, but the standard exposure ended up close to two stops underexposed on the birds underside, due to matrix metering being fooled by the relatively bright sky.  I knew that this would most likely happen, but did not have time to change my exposure parameters as the eagle took flight.  I was just as interested in the camera / lens combination’s focus results as I was in the final usability of the image.  I have not really ever gotten an image of a flying bird that I was satisfied with.

The image below shows one of the series of images that I took that day.  I am actually quite pleased with the results for the difficult lighting conditions.  The image is VERY noisy (grainy) at 100 % magnification, and would not likely print very well.  You can be the judge of the results at web size, however.  I think that at minimum, though, this proves the viability of using the 80-400 VR for larger flying birds.  Obviously, better exposure and better light would have made a really big difference in the image quality.  Nikon Capture NX was used to lift the shadow areas on the underside of the bird to allow some detail to be seen.  I allowed the sky to “blow out” on purpose, as the only important subject in my image is the bird, the overcast sky had no detail anyway.

Flying Eagle

Flying Eagle

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Barbara Thorbjörnsson 04.21.10 at 10:35 am

Oh! Flying Eagle is BEAUTIFUL! Lovely! What a great shot!

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