Photographing Eagles at Conowingo Dam

eagle-banking

Having a new camera…

I tried many settings for these action shots with my D750. I ended up settling on manual settings rather than shutter priority at the suggestion of the seasoned photographers who shoot eagles often.

Shutter priority is commonly recommended by professional photographers for photographing flying birds, and is what I often use for shooting hawks. It worked poorly on eagles though. The aperture setting was not always well-chosen by the camera. Eagle action is less predictable, the light always changing and far too fast-moving, so manually switching settings worked the best.

The camera was set for 1/1250 sec. f8 ISO 400 AWB in the series of images here. Much of the day the camera was set at 1/2000 f8 ISO 640 for these fast-moving combatants. The D750 is the newest full-frame camera from Nikon.

The-FishOnce a bird catches a fish, eagles commence chase on the eagle grasping its fish. This makes for a beautiful action sequence, from approach through capture to pursuit. See the fish jumping out of the water in the photo above? The eagle does.

The camera was set to continuous to fire off multiple frames, getting the entire sequence of action. This eagle came in from the trees behind us to make the approach to the river. For a front view, the approach is generally too far off for my lens.

touchdown

Some photographers have been coming here for about 15 years. I found them very helpful and friendly, always alerting me when an eagle was about to feed.

You get used to the clues the more one watches the behaviors, but getting the “heads up” from fellow photographers or birders is the difference between getting an action sequence or missing it. Without their help, I may have missed a lot.

Immediately after a fish is captured, fights break out among the greedy pursuing eagles. It involves a number of birds and is exciting to watch. On occasion the bird being pursued will drop its fish into the river. On GWGT, the bird drops the fish.

catch

You need a fast camera and a fast, long lens. I have a 80-400mm, barely what is needed. The professional lenses are much crisper, focus faster and let in more light.

The-Grab

Recommended is 500mm and up to get crisp feather detail of birds. The image below is the actual “out of the camera” size. The camera takes sharp images. My problem, the lens.

Eagle-Pursuit

These images are enlarged quite a bit.

The-ChaseChallenging also is the eagle’s white head. Exposure is difficult because the body is dark and the head and tail are white. It is easy to blow out the whites with little definition in the tail feathers, like seen here. Through changing light you need to be quick, especially when more than one eagle is in the shot.

The-PursuitOh, and keeping them focused in the frame is no small feat. They quickly get away or out of the frame.

Eagle-Battle

Check out more action over on Garden Walk Garden Talk.

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22 Responses to Photographing Eagles at Conowingo Dam

  1. th1nk says:

    Some great shots! I’d say the new camera is serving you quite well 🙂

  2. th1nk says:

    Also, if I may inquire, what lens would you find best suited for these shoots?

    • donna213 says:

      The lens most were using was a 600mm. I only have an 80-400mm zoom. My goal is a 500 or 600 someday. Need the heavy tripod first though, since I will rent a lens to see which I prefer. My tripod is too light weight.

  3. Whatever lens…AWESOME shots!

  4. Even on the solo pics (with no point of reference), the eagles loom large. Invigorating life flaps through those wings, and I can feel it. What a way to bring in 2015.
    🙂

  5. Aquileana says:

    A beautiful gallery and a truly interesting and informative post!.
    Sending you all my best wishes for 2015!. Aquileana 😀

  6. Wow! Those are amazing fight scenes.

  7. Wonderful shots of these majestic birds. Happy New Year, Donna.

  8. They never cease to amaze me…You did an amazing job with your new camera capturing the action and the detail.

  9. Lyle Krahn says:

    What a great post. You documented the challenges of shooting eagles so well and then got some good photos. What a treat to be able to watch that action!

    • donna213 says:

      Thanks Lyle. My next acquisition – a longer lens. I never realized how different photographing the eagles would be. The behaviors are so different from other raptors, but a little predictable in that they almost always contest the eagles with the prize. I will be there each year now. It is addicting.

  10. Donna that second shot of the back of the adult reflected in the water is stunning. Great action and it seems you really enjoyed that new camera…

  11. Thanks for all the interesting tips on your camera, not that I could afford a new camera anytime soon 🙂 I wonder if you crossed paths with a fellow Florida birder i know named Nora; she is a real Eagle lover, and has travelled to Alaska number of times in the past couple of years.

    • donna213 says:

      I actually talked to a few photographers that were in Alaska. Some showed me their images from there. I was tad jealous I will admit. Nothing better than the eagles in Alaska. I did not meet any of the woman photographers though. The few there were not as friendly as they guys. They were more interested in just getting their shots. I found myself interested in what the guys were telling me.

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