One, Two, Three, Four, Adult
Just a couple of tips about photographing Bald Eagles and a couple of lesser known facts about these great birds and their behavior. At the Chilkat Preserve the best and most dramatic photographs you can make are of the Eagles fighting for a piece of salmon. It is not uncommon to have three or more birds competing for one piece of fish. The salmon are so large that it can last for more than a half an hour before it disappears entirely, so if you see a fish being dragged out of the water you’ll have a fair amount of time to set up and choose your settings. First, let’s think about what the ground is like around that feast. If it is wet, rocky area you may have an issue with secular highlights, the annoying blown out highlight spots. Sandy soil is going to produce a darker more even background. You may find a sandbar with rushing water around it. While this could be challenging, deeper running water around the action will add a different color to the scene like blue, aqua, or even green and that can really let the subject stand out. The fourth look you might encounter is the snow and ice scenario. In overcast (snowing) conditions this is great because the white snow and ice will reflect light back up under the birds and help illuminate those usual dark places under the wings. The exposure is very similar to the adult Bald Eagles head and tail so you will have very even images. Remember that adult Bald Eagles are a high contrast subject, essentially black and white, so be careful to not blow out the highlights. Much more about that in a couple of weeks, suffice to say for now, compensate accordingly. In most cases you are best served to focus on the piece of salmon and stop down some and give yourself a wider field of view as the action will spill out of a tight shot and you are much better off cropping in a bit than trying to chase the action. Just as a loose reference I found 420mm, f6-7, at about 10-20 yards out to be a very good combination. Adjust the sensitivity to keep the shutter speed around 1/1,000sec. If you can’t get the shutter speed above 1/800sec you probably are not going to be happy with the results.
The photo at the top is an immature Bald Eagle, around a year old. It is often mistaken for a Golden Eagle. All the cool kids know there aren’t any Golden Eagles on the Chilkat River. Be a cool kid. The photo below is also a picture of an immature Bald Eagle, it is about 4 years old. It takes 5 years for one to become an adult and as you can see they gradually lose the darkness in the head, geek, and tail over that period of time. Bald Eagles can live to be well over 40 years old but in the wild tend to live for about 30 to 35 years.
This is the second part of a series of stories about photographing Bald Eagles in Alaska. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to come by next week for more photos and info. Meanwhile you can see more of my images here.