Friday Photos – A split second does matter

Clipped Red-tailed Hawk juvenile in flightClipped Red-tailed Hawk juvenile (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight – Tooele County, Utah – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 400, +1.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

For the past two days I have been having an amazing time photographing a family of Red-tailed Hawks; including at least 4 juveniles, in Tooele County, Utah which is west of Salt Lake City. Amazing; yes, but also extremely frustrating. The photos are being taken from a road that goes up a canyon, at times the canyon walls are very steep and that can be a problem when the birds are high above you. The hawks were constantly on the move, soaring quickly by or hanging on the currents of air that were warming as the sun rose.

Yesterday a Prairie Falcon joined the family of hawks in aerial manouvers and I truly wish they had been closer because the action was fast, fantastic and utterly mesmerizing. None of the hawk’s seemed aggressive towards the falcon and the falcon wasn’t showing any aggression either.

Because the hawks were very difficult to track when you have a limited range of motion from inside a mobile blind (vehicle) these photos were taken outside the vehicle and they were handheld because there was no time to set up a tripod. None.

Exposure control was also a challenge as the hawks soared in a blue sky with ever increasing clouds or dipped down into the Juniper and grass covered slopes. For shots where the hawks were in the sky some positive exposure compensation was needed and then  a split second later I’d have to try and get the exposure back down to avoid blowing out the lights with the trees and grasses in the background.

Trying to track the fast flying birds while handholding my 200-400mm VR lens with a teleconverter while constantly trying to adjust exposure and keep the hawks in focus was hard. Ok, maybe it was more exasperating than hard. Just know that I am kicking my own rearend tonight for the shots I missed today for one reason or another.

Take the image above, nice clean look at the eye, light under the wings plus on the body and head, wonderful wing position, fanned tail and the exposure worked well. But I clipped the tips of both of the wings! I didn’t crop it that way.

Red-tailed Hawk juvenile in flight

Red-tailed Hawk juvenile (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight – Tooele County, Utah – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 400, +1.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The frame above was the very next frame taken just mere tenths (hundreds) of a second after the image where I clipped the wings of the bird. No clipped wings and this is 94% of the original frame! I could tell I hadn’t clipped anything when I took the shot. Yay!

Again I had light under the wings plus on the body and head, wonderful wing position, fanned tail and the exposure worked well. But… the hawk had already started to turn it’s head and the look at the eye isn’t optimal. Very disappointing.

I wish I had a time machine to go back to this morning and get things exactly right. The exposures, the framing, the tracking and more.

Right now though I think I’ll go find a nice pillow to sit on and give my rearend a break from all the kicking I have been giving it. It deserves a rest.

Mia

I will try working with this Red-tailed Hawk family again soon!

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.

2 Comments

  1. Hi, Mia:

    I just noticed this post this morning. I’ve clipped more hawks’ wings than I can count! Add to that the wires and insulators that seem to always be getting in the way of my best shots and my success rate is usually down in single percentage points in taking shots like these.

    By the way, I’m not far from starting my blog and I’ll notify you the instant I do. There will be a lot of Red Tail shots, that I guarantee.

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