It’s funny how my standards have changed over the years. When I was a kid, if I made a picture of an eagle a mile away, and there was a little black dot in the center of the image that was in fact the eagle, I was excited.
When I first got serious about bird photography, my first few eagle shots where the bird was actually recognizable as an eagle were thrilling.
After I honed my skills, I expected not only a bird I could recognize, but one captured in nice light.
And so it goes.
Now, I have thousands upon thousands of eagle shots in my portfolio and I have new standards. Here are some of the things I look for when making a photograph of eagles: This could apply to almost any bird or even many different subjects, but it’s my thought process and I decided to share it in case someone reading is interested.
1. Find eagles. That’s not hard in Alaska but may be in Brooklyn. You have to research to find the best place and the best time to be there.
2. Find eagles in great light. If the light sucks, then as excited as I may be by the presence of eagles, I keep my camera in the bag. I only want shots in good to great light.
3. Find eagles in great light in front of great backgrounds. I prefer to shoot eagles against the water, then the sky and then the snow-capped mountains. If they are photographed against anything else, it’s too easy for them to merge with the background.
4. Find GOOD specimens of eagles in great light in front of great backgrounds. It’s not enough to find an eagle. I want to find an eagle who’s relatively clean, has all his feathers, an intact and attractive beak, etc. Since I sell these images, it helps to find good-looking birds to shoot.
5. Find GOOD specimens of eagles in great light in front of great backgrounds and then get good angles. Small things like head angle, wing position, etc., make a big difference in bird photography. If you have a bird flying even one degree away from you, the shot isn’t salable. If the eagle’s wings are flat, or what we call pancake position, then it’s not as desirable as wings up or down. There are lots of small details that have to be right to get a salable eagle photo. Most people wouldn’t believe how picky the photo editors are when it comes to this stuff.
6. Find GOOD specimens of eagles in great light in front of great backgrounds and then get good angles while the eagles are doing something interesting. Small things like head angle, wing position, etc., in the midst of doing something interesting matters. While I can and do sell simple eagle portraits, pictures of the birds displaying their natural behavior are typically more attractive. Fishing, eating, fighting, soaring, etc., these are all behaviors that make for a good eagle photo.
I’ll stop here because I think you get the point. It’s not good enough to simply get a picture of an eagle. You have to get the RIGHT picture of an eagle. It’s hard work but fun too. More from Alaska soon.
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