Low light juvenile Prairie Falcon

The cooler weather we are having in Utah has me thinking of frosty mornings, snow, crystal clear skies, low light and the foggy mornings that the Great Salt Lake can create. After having lived in Florida for five years I don’t take those weather conditions for granted, I revel in them.

Portrait of a juvenile Prairie Falcon in low lightPortrait of a juvenile Prairie Falcon in low light – Nikon D300, f5.6, 1/1600, ISO 800, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or set up

One foggy morning last December I spotted this juvenile Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) perched on a frost-covered rock on the causeway to Antelope Island SP with the Great Salt Lake in the background. There was some fog and the light was low but with the right settings I was able to get a sharp image without noise.  My exposure compensation for this image was very important, I increased the exposure so that I would not have to brighten the image in post processing which can often introduce unwanted noise. I also used f5.6 knowing I wouldn’t get the grasses in the foreground sharp but I felt I needed to make a compromise to keep my shutter speed up in case the young falcon decided to lift off.

I know that I could have increased the saturation and contrast while I was processing this image in Photoshop to give it what some people call more “pop” but I would much rather process my images to appear natural rather than oversaturated, over-processed and artificial. This image is what it is, a photo of this bird taken in low light.

Immature Prairie Falcon in low lightImmature Prairie Falcon in low light – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 271mm, natural light, not baited or set up

This is the same immature bird a little later after it had flown to the other side of the road. Because the Prairie Falcon seemed “stickier” I wanted some images where the foreground boulder was in focus so I selected f7.1 which gave me sufficient depth of field to bring the boulder into focus as well as the bird. I decreased my ISO to bring out more fine details in the plumage and the perch and while that slowed down my shutter speed but at the time I felt that the falcon was comfortable with my presence and wouldn’t fly off right away. I could see on my histogram that I didn’t need to increase or decrease my exposure compensation to acquire a well exposed image so I set it at 0.0.

For myself; I feel it is important to process and present my images to represent the lighting conditions, colors and contrast as close as possible to what I saw through my viewfinder, other wise it simply does not look or feel natural to me.

Neither of these images “pop” off the screen but given that they were created in low light I don’t expect them to.


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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.


  1. The detail in your images and the natural beauty is what makes them so perfect Mia. I feel like I’m there, looking at this young Prairie Falcon through my bins! Of course the second shot where the bird is looking right at you is just stunning!

  2. ooooh…. I’ve never seen one of these. What a gorgeous (and fluffy-looking) bird! Thanks for sharing your wonderful images, Mia!

  3. Pingback: Coyote after an early morning swim? | on the wing photography

  4. Mia, I love the depth of field and the natural appearance of these photos! While I don’t have photoshop I do have other photo processing software that I use and when I do my blog I use Live Write which allows me to “pop” the color as well. It looks good on some shots but artificial on others. I try to be judicious in its use but sometimes it is hard to resist! I do love color, but I also like the natural look as well. These photos are stunning! I still have a lot to learn about changing and using the settings on my camera. You are far more knowledgeable than I am. Great job!

    • Thank you Kathie, I appreciate your thoughts and comments. It does take time to get to know your camera and the settings. Every time I get a new camera I feel like I spend time getting used to the feel of it in my hands and learning where the buttons, knobs and dials are. But that is all part of our photography.

  5. Gorgeous captures Mia! The detail is incredible! Hope you enjoy your cooler weather:)

  6. These are up there as some of my favorite shots of yours, and it is hard to choose ;)

  7. Mia, you don’t have to worry, these shots ‘pop’ very nicely as they are!

  8. Amazing photos you have taken, I love ‘em.

  9. I love your philosophy to present images as they are without souping them up with a lot of gimmicks… That’s one of the beauties of your photos for me…since I can feel the “real” bird as if being there to view it for myself. I also appreciate the seasons and it’s one of the reasons I would be unhappy to leave New England…. although I have to tell you, this last summer here felt a great deal as if I had been living in Florida… it was positively tropical… which has caused some changes in our flora and fauna as well.

    • Merrill, I think that summer all over the country felt different than normal, it was hotter here and hotter for longer than normal. I’m enjoying the wonderful cool down we are now experiencing here. I’m glad that you enjoy the natural presentation of my images, nature is perfect just the way it is! Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  10. Mia, you captured this baby in all of its innosense. The eyes are just beautiful and every detail of the feathers is just outstanding. I am truly touched by Nature.

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