I joke (but it’s true) that my best eagle and osprey in moments in the Northwest happen in silhouette. There’s the issue of light, and how low and flat it tends to be in the winter. There’s also the issue of my luck — where the light is perfect, I’m pointed in the right direction, but the bird has other plans for me, usually flying overhead and hovering mere meters away with a lightbox of diffused sun behind her.
My most recent Bald Eagle encounter combined the best of all weather conditions: rain, white clouds, and then backlighting, as the sun struggled to emerge behind that scrim. A sub-adult eagle soared right over me and landed on a totem pole just off a marina pier. This was how the scene looked to my naked eye and to the default settings in my camera:
I decided on spot metering, to bring out detail in the eagle feathers, then some negative exposure compensation to avoid completely blowing out the sky. The results weren’t perfect, given the intense backlight and the limited amount of time to experiment. But, I shoot RAW, so I can bring up the shadows and play around with highlight recovery in Lightroom to create a workable (if highlight-clipped) image, as I did with this one:
Another, easier option is to abandon strict realism, give in to the randomness of the moment, and go artistic on the eagles. Seeing as I haven’t added any images to my Bird Noir series in a while, I decided to go for eagles in black-and-white.
So, here’s my Eagle Noir series, commemorating this latest encounter with an almost-grown Bald Eagle who gave me yet another Northwest “best” … in silhouette (but of course).
To my wildlife photography friends … how would you have metered and shot this scene, given the conditions?
Very cool Ingrid. I love the presentation here, it comes across like a dream sequence, and yet I can still smell the pier and hear the squawking of impatient crows.
There is a ton of great images and information here. I’m looking forward to pouring over everything these next few days.
Thank you, Laurence. The eagles are never without crow and gull “escorts.” The other day, I was watching a huge group of crows bathing alongside a pond that had a big flock of mixed ducks. The crows were onto the overhead raptors so fast, they protected the whole group of birds in the area. Not only did they spot and identify the raptors quickly (and ducks are pretty quick themselves), a few of them would fly up and force the raptor out of the vicinity. They must have a love/hate relationship with eagles because they also have no qualms muscling in on leftover scraps, even as the eagle is snapping at them, within inches.
I love this black and white series of the Bald Eagle Ingrid. I especially like the shot of the eagle looking straight up.
I also shoot in RAW and use Lightroom as my post processing tool. As far as metering a shot like this, I can’t help you there. The way I avoid this situation is to never shoot into the light 😉 For instance, when I am traveling an auto loop on a wildlife refuge, I don’t even look at the sun side of the landscape. I plan the loop so I see one part of the refuge in the morning light and follow the light around into the afternoon. A big help I am. I have shot images into the sun in the past but I gave up on it because I could never make them into acceptable photos. I really like what you’ve done with these images though.
Maybe a much better photographer than I will leave a comment and we can both learn something!
Larry, do you use or have you played around with Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro? A friend turned me onto the package a few years ago and I absolutely love how it enhances the Lightroom experience. A lot of photos, I’ll process in Lightroom alone. But I have a few favorite Color Efex plug-ins that make the process easier at times.
As far as shooting into the sun, I’m laughing as I consider it … because around SF Bay I didn’t shoot into the sun much either. I think it’s because, 1) there were plenty of sunny shooting days, and I didn’t feel the imperative, and 2) I could base myself around the bay, depending on the location of the sun. Here, I simply can’t squander photo ops, knowing that it might be raining tomorrow. hehe. Also, I’m often shooting around Puget Sound where the vantage points from Seattle are mostly facing west. I need to start taking ferries to east-facing points in the afternoons.
I’d shoot manual exposure and meter for the shadows and let the sky blow out. But I like what you did very much.
Glenn, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll do it that way next time … and I’m pretty sure there will be a next time an eagle or osprey is in silhouette.
Do some test first, the results might be disappointing and what you did come up with looks really good.
Thanks, Glenn. I photographed some Snow Geese the other day, in near-perfect conditions. Sure makes you appreciate the qualities of light.
Ingrid, great shots!
Didn’t see it mentioned, may have missed it, but one of the best tools with the dslr’s are the auto + and –
exposure bracketing. Can’t beat it. 3 exposures on each pic taken. What a tool. It might slow you down on a slower card and on Tiff/Raw with action.
Always loved the idea of eagles on totem poles!
Hi, John. You know, I should have bracketed. I was trying to trick the meter by spot metering on contrast lines and such. I use bracketing a lot for objects and landscapes but am so out of the habit of utilizing it for wildlife. In this case, I clearly had time to experiment a bit and will think outside my usual box next time. Thank you for the great feedback.