Background on Eagle shots

Started Jan 17, 2013 | Discussions thread
cplittleton Regular Member • Posts: 401
Re: Background on Eagle shots

Timing is everything ... I stumbled into a bald eagle demonstration at a local state park yesterday.  A raptor rescue group provided a 30-minute educational presentation with a rescued (but un-releasable) 23 year old bald eagle as the star attraction.  I had my 70-400 lens, so I had a great place to get shots, right?

Wrong!  An overcast day with the presentation inside a large covered (read dark) picnic shelter, and the bird handler along one side of the shelter with an open field behind her.  I did some quick spot metering and found 2-3 stops of difference between the eagle and the pale gray clouds behind, and had no way to take advantage of the suggestions in this thread of finding a better background.  I dialed in +2 exposure compensation & went for it, shooting RAW to allow for exposure and white balance work in post processing.

After culling all the shots where the handler moved or a kid stuck his hand into the frame at the last moment, I came away with a few somewhat usable head shots.  Every one has a pure white background (blown out clouds), but as a series they work.  I'm still struggling with color and how much to separate the white feathers (as a very pale gray) from the white clouds (like your third shot).  Even a tick too much one way or the other in color is really, really obvious, and it's tough to keep the pale gray feathers from looking dirty.  Once I get them 'right', I'll post them.

My suggestion is if you are stuck with the bad background, focus on a detail (most often the head,  but a talon holding a salmon would be neat!) and let the background disappear entirely.  In the shots you posted, some have the railing or whatever the eagle was perching on in the frame.  Try adjusting your position / framing / zoom to eliminate the perch and focus solely on a key detail of the eagle with "nothing" in the background.  Then stick the shot - perfect focus, best possible exposure for the eagle, an interesting pose (I like your second shot where the eagle is looking down at the camera - just crop in on the head to eliminate the perch), and you'll get some usable shots.

One note on the second shot - it appears the plane of sharpest focus is about half way back on the beak.  Try to nail the eyes when doing animal head shots - it's what viewers most easily identify with.  Your last shot gets closer to this.  Also, if you can get a bit of glint or reflection in the eye, it will add to the punch.  Of the usable shots in my series, the ones with the eyes in tack-sharp focus are the best.


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