Photographing a Perched Raptor

This article discusses photographing a perched raptor, outlines various composition considerations, and shares some photographs to illustrate issues. It is important to keep in mind that the subject bird featured in this article did not change its perched position.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/8.3, 1/1600, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 11.7 metres

Yesterday I was out with a friend capturing some photographs on a ‘catch as catch can’ basis at Hendrie Valley. While we were on the bridge by the ponds a raptor surprised us by landing on a close by tree. Like most photographers, my immediate response was to wheel around and grab a quick image before the bird flew away.

As you can see with the EXIF data the raptor was perched only 11.7 metres away from me. This meant that I had to shoot up through some branches to acquire my image. This was no problem at all even though I was using my E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI subject tracking feature.

Unlike some photographers who have all of the AF points active with Bird Detection AI, I only have a single AF point activated. This allows me to position that single AF point on the head of a bird when I need to shoot through branches, and not have to change to a different auto focusing method.

Shooting up at a bird does not produce very attractive images. The initial reaction that many photographers have… especially when first starting out with bird photography… is to move in as close as possible to a subject bird. Even if it means shooting up at it.

It is often a better strategy is to move away from the bird to create a less severe shooting angle. This has the effect of making it appear that you are at are a similar height to the bird, rather than being well below it. This helps to create a more intimate feel with the resulting photograph.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.3, 1/1600, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 16.9 metres

In the EXIF data for the image above you’ll see that I moved away from the raptor and captured this image at a distance of 16.9 metres. The shooting angle is more pleasing, but there are some distracting¬† branches in front of the bird. After quickly assessing the position of the branches I rotated my position clockwise to get a less obstructed view of the raptor.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, 1/1600, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 18.2 metres

In the photograph above we can see that a more open view of the raptor has been achieved. And, while there still is one branch the partially obstructs the raptor, it is much lower on its body and much less distracting.

As you examine this photograph you’ll notice that the nictitating membranes of the bird’s eyes have been lowered.¬† This makes the raptor look odd.

Getting these unexpected details in photographs is one of the reasons that I never shoot single frames of perched birds. Instead I always capture short continuous auto focus image runs. Shooting in this manner gives me more choices in terms of a bird’s head and body position, and lessens the chance of a lowered nictitating membrane spoiling what could be my only image if I was shooting single frames.

Getting the eye of a bird in sharp focus is a fundamental component of a good bird photograph.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/8.8, 1/1600, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 18.4 metres

The photograph above was my favourite one from the selection that I captured. The shooting distance of 18.4 metres was far enough away from the raptor to flatten out my shooting angle and make it appear that I was at about eye level with the perched raptor. This creates a more visually pleasing image.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/8.8, 1/1600, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 18.4 metres

While I seldom make spot adjustments with my photographs, in this case you’ll see that I removed a distracting twig from the left hand side. This cleans up the photograph and creates a strong ‘V’ shape to frame the perched raptor.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/8.8, 1/1600, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 18.7 metres

If time permits it is always a good idea to try different composition approaches including shooting vertical compositions. The raptor was perched long enough for a bit of experimentation. All of the photographs in this article were captured within a 2 minute time frame. Having this much time to work with one subject bird is often a luxury!

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All images are displayed as full frame captures without any cropping.

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6 thoughts on “Photographing a Perched Raptor”

  1. Great images! It would be great to sometimes see bird photos taken from further away. When I get the chance (here in southern Sweden) to photograph a raptor, we are talking about a subject distance of up to 50 meters. I typically use E-M1x with 300/4 + MC-14.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the images Oscar! My basic approach to my photography is to get in as close as I can to my subject… and if I can’t then I tend to pass on trying to capture the photograph. From a practical standpoint there’s not much I can do with a bird image if an insufficient number of pixels is on the subject.

      In an earlier article I did capture some images of ducks in flight that were in the 30 to 55 metre range. If you haven’t already seen this article you may find it of interest.

      Tom

  2. Great images. I’m new to wildlife/bird photography. I really only started a couple months ago and have been enjoying it immensely over these last weeks of winter. I usually capture landscapes but the Winter to Spring window is always a bit dull. However, it makes for great bird photography! I captured a red-tailed hawk like this (assuming it’s a red-tailed) a few days ago. I’ve got so much to learn but did come to the realization that standing a bit further away is a better method to minimize the angle. The other day I captured a red-tailed taking off from a phone pole. I was lucky to be on a meandering back road on top of a small hill so it looked as though I was at eye level. I appreciate your content very much, especially with the focus on M43. Looking forward to more of your posts.

    1. Hi Miguel,

      Thanks for outlining some of your recent experiences photographing birds… it is always great when readers share! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the website and finding it useful.

      Tom

  3. For me the last picture shows the grace and power of this rapture the best. Infinity look, strong feet with deadly claws. Great . Nice weekend and keep safe. Claudia

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