Bald eagles, a trip to Haines, AK.
One of the advantages of shooting in Haines, AK is the natural setting and ambiance. The combination of clouds, snow covered mountains as well as the trees combined with soft diffused light provides the photographer with the opportunity to depict the winter ambiance as well as the cold Alaskan landscape where eagles live. High ISO is a necessity to shoot in these environment, I was shooting at ISO 1600 most of the time. Therefore, I recommend using a pro body and a fast super-telephoto lens to handle these conditions. My EOS 1D MKIV produces very nice files up to ISO 3200, I used my processing and noise reduction flow described in my guide to produce these images. I used EF 600mm f/4 IS II with and without the 1.4X Extender III for all of these photos. All of the photographs were made handheld which is essential in getting flight and action shots that happen in a split second.
The ground is mostly covered with snow at this time of the year which is a plus for photographing eagles, the reflected light from snow provides uniform soft illumination. With proper exposure nice detail can be rendered in the darker plumage, which is often a difficult task in direct sunlight. A useful tip: Use manual exposure for best results. Especially if you are interested in photographing eagles in flight against varied backgrounds. It is best not to rely on camera’s meter since it will be fooled by the bright (snow or clouds) and the dark (mountains or trees) backgrounds as the photographer tracks the flying eagle against such backgrounds. In the former case, the eagle will be underexposed severely leaving no detail in the darks, while in the latter scenario the eagles will be overexposed with the head/tail whites blown beyond recovery. Always check your histogram carefully and try to set the exposure accurately, with high ISOs and low light there isn’t much headroom for error. All of the photographs presented here were metered manually.
Juvenile eagles have darker plumage compared to the adults. They can be aged by noting the white patches that start to dominate in the head/tail area until it becomes completely bald in adult birds. The exposure is a bit different for juveniles, remember to change your exposure if you go back and forth between adult and juvenile birds. Always watch for changing light conditions!
It is quite cold in the Haines valley in this season, remember to bring hand warmers so you can keep your hands warm when waiting for action. It is quite possible to miss a great frame if your fingers become numb and fail to depress the shutter button quickly. This happened to me a few times!
Eagles stand out against the dark background nicely.