Snowy Owl … Well, Technically

In lieu of having some kind soul grabbing his camera, getting in his car and driving what..6 minutes at most… and take a micro second to snap a keepsake photo of an extremely rare bird as a gift to his little brother… I am reduced to sleight of hand and clever semantics.  He also tends to dismiss the truth from his own brother and willingly accepts what are clearly untruths from his sister in law but that is fodder for a whole other post.  This month is probably going to be another one devoted to birds based on the backlog of shoots we’ve been on this year.  If this keeps up we’ll never get to the Indy Zoo pictures that have been in the queue for about a year now.  Sorry, but the big cats have to wait for our feathered friends.

Today’s offering is a snowy owl.

Okay, so it isn’t a true Snowy Owl per se, but it is an owl and although it is difficult to tell from this photo, it was snowing big time when I shot this set.  In case you do not know your owls, this is actually a Barred Owl and lucky for us, one that calls our woods his home.  To be honest, based on the hoots that ring out around the area around 5 pm there are at least 4 of them taking up residence near us.

Hit the jump to see even more pictures of the Barred Owl.

Owls have the distinction of both exciting and concerning me.  I put these birds up there with eagles when it comes to the majestic feeling they provide whenever luck would have it and they make themselves visible.  They are clearly unique in the bird world and exude an air of confidence that tends to come right through the camera glass.  Owls tend to be pretty calm and will slowly assess the danger of a situation (like staring down at The Beast) and move off to safety at about 100 feet at a time.  This makes them pretty easy to track… and try again if you screwed up the shot. This is exactly what our specimen was preparing to do in the following shot. Although it is not the best composition, I included it here since it gives a good view from the side so you can see the full markings.

But there is a flip side to these creatures that causes some nervousness in the household.  Owls are pretty aggressive when it comes to their hunting skills.  Not only are they not afraid of larger birds (they managed to kill an eagle at Wildlife Prairie Park and there are plenty of other accounts of that out there), they have the ability to snatch up small animals in their enormous talons.  As owners of champion toy poodles this is an ever threat.  We do not let our dogs go out alone and tend to make our presence known in case any of these predators are hanging around.  Our youngest is probably too big for these guys now, but our oldest is in the 5-6 pound range which is probably not far out of its standard hunting preference.   I doubt it would risk coming this close to the house and the other dog (they go out together), but I tend to keep an eye open for any large shadows or large round eyes peering through the trees.  If there is one event that might put my wife in the hospital, it is probably having Kerby scooped up by an owl – a close second is having an owl drop a snake in her convertible as it flew by.

Did I mention it was snowing hard while trying to capture this owl.  The things I do for my blog peeps (someone feeling guilty yet?)

I should probably mention that Linda should get a big thanks for making this set possible.  She came home one late afternoon and informed me she spotted this owl sitting alongside the road about a mile away.  Without hesitation I grabbed the Beast (which is always at the ready),  jumped into the car and had Linda backtrack.  It had moved up into a tree further back, but sure enough it was there.  After a few shots, it became concerned about the big glass and flew off up the road … about 100 feet).  Linda was in full tracker mode and continue to move the car into position.  In the meantime I was fighting the camera controls in an attempt to accommodate the poor shooting conditions.  The snow was obviously playing havoc on the autofocus and the clouds were not letting much light through at all (the teleconverter was on so the light was already restricted).  The fact that the shots came out at all is a small festivus miracle.

After a couple more short flights, the owl landed on a bus sign which immediately made me smile.

Some things just materialize in your head for odd reasons – as soon as the focus and exposure were the way I wanted it, the vision of the owl waiting for the school bus in order to get wiser took shape… and you thought that was just and old myth.  You can really tell the snow in this shot but the Beast was able to slice through it nicely.  By now, this owl was getting a little irked at being followed – you can almost tell that from its expression above.  As before, it tried to distance itself from us again.

This is another shot that the composition seems to work pretty well.  The vertical lines of the metal shed line up nicely with the pole while the straight wires give nice character to the overall shot.  I may be biased here, so feel free to provide your opinions in the comments – don’t worry, I’m a big boy, so constructive criticism is always accepted.

… or do you like a little more zoom

About now, the owl is probably full on pissed at me but was keeping his calm.  For the most part it did not want to take its big black eyes off of the big glass.  Quite frankly I do not blame it.  I included the following shot because it looks kinda spooky.  At one point during a burst shot it must have gotten a snowflake in the eye and blinked producing a cool image with nice blue eyes.  It was shaking it’s head so sorry for the slight blur on the face.  Not a gallery shot by any  means, but definitely interesting.

Lastly, I thought it would be a good time to demonstrate why we shoot in RAW format.  I keep reading article after article about how you need to get the shot perfect in the camera (compensation and exposure) and how post editing is unprofessional on and on and on.  My response.. bullshit.  How exactly is using the digital dark room cheating any more that shooting in Aperture mode and letting the camera select the proper shutter speed to get your desired field of view, how is it an different than employing the latest sensor matrix comparison for proper exposure?  translated.. just elitist crap – Ansel Adams was the king of darkroom tricks and yes, my wife already outed “no-shop” Peter Lik for an old interview where he admitted to shopping pictures (that was a big disappointment for her by the way and still holds a grudge on that).  Do what you want, but I’ll focus my attention on getting the shot in the tin and clean up white balance and composition later.  I’ll take a clean up shot any day over half a wing in the frame thanks to futzing around with the menu system.  Now this doesn’t make up for getting the shot in focus and in general the histogram right! – get the fundamentals right and just make it better in the digital darkroom.  So here is your example.  These shots were in the 3200 ISO range, snowing/cloudy conditions with teleconverter on which even reduced the lighting more.  What was actually captured in the RAW …well

As long as you know what you can do in Lightroom, you can instead focus your time on the bird and not your camera’s menu system.

Hope you enjoyed.  There are more on the way.

5 thoughts on “Snowy Owl … Well, Technically”

  1. You meant to say “The vertical lines of the metal shed”.

    Interestingly, I have no idea who you are talking about in the first sentence. Sounds like he’s a lazy, inconsiderate bump on a log. It would be altogether different if it were the freezing dead of winter, with a two-hour drive into a crime-infested concrete jungle like Chicago, such as the situation I had. That would make total sense. This guy’s just a bum.

    A whole other blog on how this other person accepts untruths from Linda? Sounds to me like that would be an empty post, which would be pretty weird. I wouldn’t recommend that. Also, you never know, that person might be relishing the thought of a free guest post on your blog.

    I do like your owl shots very much, though! The fourth picture is awesome and could be in a competition. I thought the owl was a lot bigger until I saw the picture of it on the sign. That’s why I like a size reference of some kind somewhere in a picture if there is any doubt at all.

    Thanks for the photos. I guess you’ve had your fill of snowy owls at this point.

    Ron

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  2. Ah, nice catch, I’ll fix that immediately!

    Ummm, hmmmm, did I mention it was a RARE sighting of a Snowy Owl? I would think that would keep anyone warm enough to dash from the full heat blasting car, snap an award winning gallery shot and dash right back into the warm car – of course immediately locking the doors to prevent thugs from stealing said pictures) and be back home before the anyone knows he was gone.

    The odd thing about that shot is it was really sitting about 1/2 mile up the road on an HUGE bus sign. Speaking Huge, you should see the pictures I got of that recent moon (hehehe)

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  3. Man, I’m dying here. No posts for like, forever, like eleven days. Don’t mind me, I’m just dragging myself around, mopin’ and mopin’, hopin’ ‘n’ copin’.

    *sigh*

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  4. Oh now, the teeming millions are growing restless. Hang in there, their in the works, but race season started this morning and I’ve had to concentrate on a little thing called training. Never fear, the images have been prepared for the next 3 or 4 posts.. just need to find some time to think of something interesting to say about them!

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  5. Yay, thanks! I was almost to the point of working on posting something on my blog (or my pending guest post here). Whew!

    Ron

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