Category Archives: Latest images

Bald eagles

A recent article in The Calgary Herald mentioned a big influx of Bald Eagles along the Bow River in Calgary, with as many as 20 being viewed on some days. This is probably due to less freeze up occurring on the Bow in the City itself, keeping open water available for waterfowl, the eagles main prey.

Since the beginning of December I have been closely following two of these eagles as they build their nest in a tall cottonwood tree situated on a small island in the Bow,

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) delivers nest material, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/1600 sec @ f5.6, ISO 500. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

Baldies are among the first birds to begin the nesting process each year, often adding layer upon layer to nests from previous years until the nest can become too big for the tree to support.

Although regarded as a top predator, in fact bald eagles are an opportunistic hunter, regularly stealing prey from other birds, feeding on old carcasses. Scavenging roadkill, can prove disastrous as many are subsequently hit by passing traffic.

Two Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeding on a duck carcass on an ice flow in Bow River, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/3200 sec @ f6.3, ISO 400. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) places a nest stick, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/3200 sec @ f5.6, ISO 500. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

It is evident from sightings reported to e.bird.org run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that numbers of bald eagles are on the increase, a far cry from being placed on the endangered species list in 1973 due to illegal hunting,, habitat destruction and the disastrous effects of DDT which caused the birds to lay non-viable eggs due to very this shells, a problem associated with the decline of many birds of prey around the same time.

Long may then continue to increase in numbers as it is always a thrill to see these birds soaring along the rivers and lakes of Canada.

Photography tips

Only adult bald eagles have the white head – forming in their third year. The big difference in dynamic range between the white head and the dark body means it is essential to get your exposure correct so as not to blow out the highlights on the white feathers. I generally choose to set the exposure manually but use auto ISO to compensate for changing light conditions. I generally set my auto IOS to go no higher than 2000 as this is the level at which the D850 begins to exhibit more noise than I find acceptable. Lower resolution cameras can tolerate much higher ISO

Bald eagles are big birds, which fly relatively slowly, making flight images quite easy. However a few things to be aware of. Because they are big they have a huge wingspan, (between 6′ to 7.5′) so watch your depth of field, it is very easy to get the wing tips out of focus so close down a stop or two to add that little bit of depth.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight carrying nesting stick, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/2000 sec @ f6.3, ISO 250. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

Even though they are relatively slow you still need fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of flight. I recommend at least 1/2000sec. Make sure you pick up your subject as early as possible to lock the autofocus and pan quickly. I use a tripod and Flexshooter head for most of my birds in flight images, unless I can get really close to use a shorter lens.

For autofocus I generally use dynamic area AF set to 9 or 25 AF points. For static birds I tend to switch to single point AF so that I can lock the single point on the subjects eye.

Full circle

In October 1998 I, along with my wife Jean, emigrated to Canada from our previous home in France, and settled in Calgary. In great part our decision to come to Calgary was pre-ordained as we had been attending one of the world’s major equestrian events, The Masters Showjumping, at Spruce Meadows, for many years before we decided to make Calgary our new home.

A lot has happened in the years between 1998 and today. We spent three years in Calgary before the yearning to have a bit more land took hold and we headed on to Courtenay in British Columbia. From there it was Florida USA, back to British Columbia, a couple of years in Toronto, again a return to BC, Lake Chapala Mexico, Nova Scotia and now, as I sit typing this from a hotel room in Banff, we are waiting to move into our new home back in Calgary.

Evening storm approaches Banff, Canadian Rockies, Canada

When we drove back into Alberta, and particularly over the past few days revisiting some our old haunts in Banff National Park, (despite the restrictions caused by covid) it has felt like we have come home, full circle!

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I will now have the opportunity to spend time in the mountains and prairies photographing wildlife and also get back into shooting some major sport. That’s assuming that covid 19 is ever mastered to the point of having a major sporting program.

This year has hit many sports photographers really hard. I myself should have just returned from working six weeks at the Tokyo Olympics and we all know how that turned out. Who knows if we will be in Tokyo in 2021? Without an effective vaccine it looks a slim possibility.

So, as soon as we are settled into our new home I will concentrate on the wildlife side of my work while I wait for the sports world to get back to some sort of normality. Look out for new daily images on Instagram, (my feed has been very quiet while we have been in the process of moving).

Bighorn Sheep, Mount Norquay, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Workshops and field trips

I will also soon be announcing my workshop series for 2021. This will include some software workshops concentrating on improving photographers workflow and processing images using Capture One. More details on these will be posted shortly. Capture One is now the only software I use for processing RAW files. Occasionally a file will get passed to Photoshop for some final work but this is a rarity.

I will also be organizing some field trips for photographers starting in Spring 2021. Out of Covid 19 necessity these will be locally based around Southern Alberta. Until the situation eases I will not be organizing any non-Canadian workshops.

Unusual Osprey behaviour

I was out working our local Osprey nest (while sitting in my car to ensure I adhered to our social distancing rules) and photographed an Osprey behaviour I had never seen before.

The male Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) retuned to the nest with a fish that it had taken head off. While the female remains at the nest the male will bring fish to her and the young, but invariably feeds first by eating the head.

Very unusually this bird seems to be taking an extra nibble while flying. Normally Ospreys do not eat on the wing but take their prey to a perch before consuming it.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) carrying fish, Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens with TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm), 1/2000 sec @ f6.3 (manual mode) ISO 450 (Auto ISO activated) with +0.7 exposure compensation. Shot with lens resting on bean bag on car window frame.

While the coronavirus restrictions remain in place I am doing my photography either from the car window or here in my own back yard. Fortunately there is still a few subjects worth shooting. Hopefully we will get out of this mess soon and life can begin to return to some sort of normality, although I think that normal will be very different to what it was before.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) in fight, Broad Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada,

Nikon Z6, 500mm f4 lens with TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm), 1/2000 sec @ f5.6 (manual mode) ISO 50 (Auto ISO activated) with +1 exposure compensation. Shot with lens resting on bean bag on car window frame. I needed to add a full stop to the metered exposure to punch some detail into the very dark areas of the bird and show the amazing iridescent colours of the feathers

To see a selection of my latest images click here

Stay well and stay safe.

Winter surfing

The recent storms that have hit the coast of Nova Scotia have brought the winter surfers out in force. Even with temperatures well below freezing this does not stop these hardy souls getting out on the water to ride the huge incoming waves.

Inevitably, to get good surfing images, you need to either get in the water with the surfers with a waterproof camera or use a long lens. I certainly choose the second option, preferring to stay on dry land, well protected in my down jacket.

Fortunately a short distance from my home there is a great spot to shoot from, where I can stand on a concrete outflow pipe and the surfers end up almost 90 degrees to my position at the end of their rides. This makes for some great images, especially late afternoon with the sun behind me.

Winter surfers riding waves Cherry Hill, Arties Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens + TC14 converter (700mm), manual exposure, 1/2000 s, f7.1 ISO 800, auto white balance. Gitzo GT5540LS tripod with Flexshooter Pro head

Shooting surfers requires a very high shutter speed, to freeze not only the athlete but also the rapidly moving water. Due to the large contrast range between the whites of the cresting waves and the blacks of the wetsuits I used manual exposure settings. A shutter speed of 1/2000th sec and an aperture of f7.1  produced a well exposed raw file from my Nikon D850. These were then processed in Capture One 20. Each file required a little work to display the full dynamic range by pulling the highlight slider down to put detail back into the brightest areas of the waves and the shadow slider up a little to render detail into the blacks of the wetsuits. I am able to preserve much more detail in wide dynamic range images using these sliders in Capture One than I was ever able to do in Adobe Lightroom. You can try a 30 day, full working copy of Capture One by clicking here.

Winter surfers riding waves Cherry Hill, Arties Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens, manual exposure, 1/2000 s, f7.1 ISO 800, auto white balance. Gitzo GT5540LS tripod with Flexshooter Pro head

Equipment

All images were shot using the 45.7mp Nikon D850 with the Nikon 500mm f4 lens both with and without the TC14 converter. When shooting action such as surfing there is always a tendency to just put the longest lens you have on the camera and fill the frame with the action. However, here much of the action is also the movement of the waves so I ensured I had a range of images placing the surfer in different parts of the frame. Often the most powerful images concentrated on the form of the wave with the surfer placed quite small in the frame. You can view a full selection of surfing images by clicking here  

Winter surfers riding waves Cherry Hill, Arties Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens + TC14 converter (700mm), manual exposure, 1/2000 s, f5.6 ISO 800, auto white balance. Gitzo GT5540LS tripod with Flexshooter Pro head

Sharpness issues

I have recently been having real difficulties with getting really sharp images with my 500mm f4 lens. I have tried different camera bodies and re-calibrated the lens using Lens align with Focaltune software, with each of them, both with and without the TC-14 teleconverter I regularly use, with no real sense of the problem.

Then I spent a couple of hours on Cherry Beach shooting shorebirds, both foraging along the tide line and birds in flight at varying distances. On examining the images in Photomechanic the light suddenly went on! All the images shot at closer distances were sharp, most of those beyond about 40 feet were decidedly not, yet occasionally even an image further out would be sharp as a pin.

 

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)foraging on beach, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Obviously the issue was not with the camera bodies but decidedly funky behaviour form the lens, so it’s on it’s way to Nikon service in Toronto.

This left me with a problem as I have been waiting several days watching a nearby Osprey nest as the youngsters were obviously very close to taking their first flights. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity yesterday I grabbed the 200-400mm f4 zoom with the 1.4 converter and hoped that I would have enough reach if there was any action.

Sure enough almost as soon as I arrived I could see the two youngsters were testing their flight skills, launching themselves a few feet above the nest and hovering on outstretched wings before landing neatly back on the nest. By adding the TC-14 converter, zooming in to the 400mm setting I was able to get a focal length of 560mm and by stopping down to f8 to give me a little more depth of field and sharpness came away with a good set of usable images.

Young Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) tests it’s wings while learning to fly at nest on artificial nesting perch, Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia, Canada

To see a wider selection of new photos go to the Recent Images gallery. This is updated regularly.

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