It is not that I could not figure it out myself, I had most of it rattling around in my head anyhow. It is more about the fact that I would not have done it. Only a few hours into the workshop Matt asked me if I was shooting manual mode. After a puzzled look from me he ran it down. It was a remarkably easy thing to learn and I shot in manual mode the rest of the trip. Because Bald Eagles are such high contrast it is particularly helpful to shoot in manual mode, especially for in flight shots. Over exposing the bright white head of the Eagles is the most common problem when photographing these birds, so if you set a manual exposure to protect those highlights you are good to go. Your Eagle is properly exposed. If the body is under exposed, well that is a dynamic range and intensity of light issue, don’t confuse that with a proper exposure. Cameras in auto modes will rarely produce a properly exposed Bald Eagle on its own. typically, you need to set exposure compensation. With a manual exposure as long as the light does not change the exposure will always be correct regardless of the scene or background. Going from a dark brown tree line to pure white snow-covered mountain peaks is going to make a camera in any automatic mode do drastic changes and the exposure of the subject may or may not be correct. In manual it will always have that original correct exposure. The caveat to all of that is now the rest of the scene may or may not have a correct exposure. In the example of the treelike and snow caps one of them will be way off but remember you subject will still have a proper exposure. That is when you drill down a tad further setting the scene you want to photograph. Be selective, work the scene you have properly exposed and you will make your best shots. Like I said at the beginning it is not that I could not have figured it out on my own it, but rather the fact that I did not appreciate the need to shoot manual and would not have tried it till late or not at all. That is where expert instruction becomes the game changer. That little pivot point marks my greatest accomplishment of the entire trip.
Regrets, I have a few. No, I am not going to break out in song and actually there is only one. One day we came upon a rather picturesque scene of a Bald Eagle sitting on a huge boulder in a stream. I rushed up on the bird and scared it away. You have heard my in the past write about taking the position away from those who are not making the most of or not themselves taking the best position. You can read that here. Everything I wrote still goes but this was a different situation. First, I was indeed too close for the distance I had. Even though there was running water between us and that usually calms the bird I was too close and should have been using a soft step circling approach at that point. Second, I did not have the lens I needed. I was sporting an old 28-85 lens for landscape shots so I could never make the shot I wanted anyhow. If you can’t make the shot, you can’t make the shot and there is no need to be fighting for a place and making things harder for others. I know better than to do that and it was stupid and thoughtless. Don’t be a Bozo kids, think about what you are doing.
No account of the Alaska experience would be complete without mentioning the co-leader of the group, best of the best, a kind man named Bill. Yes, I do know his last name but I will not mention it today because I did not ask permission to write about him today but I am sure if you are really interested you can figure it out. Bill is a wonderful guide, he is a local to the area and knows the terrain, wildlife, and people like the back of his hand. He is also a very accomplished photographer and artist. You can see some of his work here. I can’t think of a moment when Bill was not lending a hand, answering a question, or just trying to make the whole Alaska Experience a once in a lifetime experience.
I hesitate to use the term “once in a lifetime” when writing about the Alaska Experience, I could do it again, again…
Thanks for stopping by everyone I shared 3 of my favorite images. They are quality publishable images so I apologize for the big ugly watermarks but I hope you enjoy them and I hope you enjoyed the whole series about Alaska. You can see more of my Alaska photos here. If you are thinking about planning your own Alaska Experience, I suggest you give Matt Shetzer a look see.
Oh, by the way, those images I thought were the best I had ever seen. Do I still think the same now that I have my own Eagle photos? Yup!
It all started a few years ago while perusing the forums on DP Review for information about long lenses when I found the best Bald eagle images I had ever seen. About a half a million bird photos later I saw some of those images again and felt the same way. They were inspiring, crystal clear, and in a setting like I had not seen before. Back in the day there was no chance of making those kind of images on my own but now with a bunch more experience and some travel time under my belt, yeah, maybe I could pull it off. Cost was an issue but I was beginning to learn that saving money can be over rated anyhow. There was a workshop to go along with those images and one thing important to me was that I was able to reserve a spot more than a year in advance. That gave me the time I really needed to save and prepare. As far as I know there is only one legitimate photography workshop shooting out of the Chilkat and that is run by Matt Shetzer, the creator of those images I so admire.
Turns out that workshop was everything it claimed to be, in fact, it was much more and that is why I named todays story “The Alaska Experience”. The shooting was superb but we were also given a good dose of Alaska life. We toured around between sessions and saw some of the most beautiful places in my life. I made some landscape images that I cherish just as much as the Eagles. We also had a couple of evenings talking about using Photoshop. Now, I have used Photoshop every single day, a few hours a day, for about a dozen years but I picked up several advanced techniques that I incorporated into my workflow. We went to the American Bald Eagle Foundation every evening and learned about and saw other Raptors and Alaskan wildlife in general. We spent some time talking about and exploring the Native American Tlingit culture. That was kind of important because in a lot of respects that is the framework from which the whole Alaskan experience builds out. I met other professional level photographers. The Chilkat tends to attract the best of the best as it really does take a considerable commitment to get up there with good gear. I have been on other photography workshops, all of them great experiences but this Alaska trip was really first class. Most of you probably will not relate sitting in frozen mud surrounded by half eaten salmon heads and tails with the term first class but yeah for this bird shooter it was.
If you were a novice you would for sure come home with the best images you have ever made. Intermediate, well you are going to improve to the point of making publishable images. Great images, ones you will cherish for life. Very advanced, pro level shooters are going to see and pick up those little things that you catch only when interacting with other top-level photographers. I have my own way of doing things and I have spent a lot of time tailoring them to bird photography. Things that I don’t ever see other people doing, we all do I suppose but I picked up on things that I never thought of before and to be short, I made images I will cherish the rest of my life.
I am a big fan of people who always do what they say they are going to do. I figure at some points that person has to go the extra mile to deliver. Very rarely do we give them credit for doing what they are “supposed to do” but when someone gets everything right all the time it is something to be applauded, no excuses, it just works. Everything just worked this time around.
But wait! There’s more. Indeed there is and I invite you to come back next week when I close out the Alaska experience. I will tell you about the biggest accomplishment, biggest regret, my favorite Alaska image and possibly the very best bird photo I have ever made and much more for the low, low, price of free.
Thanks so much for stopping by and always remember when using the term “bird shooter”, take a moment to explain yourself.