The Year of the Raptor

by Kari Post | May 5, 2011

© Kari PostFlorida’s Birding and Photo Fest seems to get better every year. In the three years that I have been attending the festival while representing NatureScapes, I’ve noticed many of the same returning, smiling faces and been impressed by the greater numbers of photographers in attendance, fuller classes covering a wider range of topics, and increasing level of skill and understanding of the participants and presenters. Due to the festival’s success in previous years, the event was extended an extra day and ran from Wednesday to Sunday. Hundreds of photographers turned out for the numerous workshops, presentations, and other events.

This year’s Birding and Photo Fest was dubbed “The Year of the Raptor” and rightly so. Jonathan Wood of The Raptor Project brought 24 birds of prey to the festival, and NatureScapes’ own Greg Downing, Alan Murphy, and Scott Elowitz led a total of seven sold out workshops featuring the birds perched and in flight.

The perched workshops were a huge success and featured a number of gorgeous birds including Harris Hawk, a gray ghost Northern Harrier, Barred Owl, both red and gray phase Screech Owls, Burrowing Owl, baby Barn Owls, American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, and Bald Eagle. Those who attended the flight workshops had the opportunity to photograph the Harris Hawk, a gorgeous pair of Gyrfalcons, one white and one gray, Lanner Falcon, and Eurasian Kestrel. Several of the birds wore no jesses, and some wore only a single leather strap or federal band and a small radio transmitter, enabling photographers to get cleaner shots of the birds than would ordinarily be possible with captive raptors.

When not posing for photographers, the birds perched politely on display in the exhibitor’s hall, where passers by could admire their beauty and that of other exotic marvels, including a Spectacled Owl and Sea Eagle.

In addition to the raptor workshops, several field workshops were held at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and around the various parks and historic sites of St. Augustine, and classroom presentations filled up the time between sunrise and sunset. The star studded line-up of speakers included Arthur Morris of Birds as Art, who delivered the keynote address and Tim Grey and Deb Sandidge, speakers from the 2010 NatureScapes event in Socorro, New Mexico.

Next year will mark the 10th year of Florida’s Birding and Photo Fest and although this year’s festival just wrapped up, I’m already excited to return. After just a couple days back at home, I find myself missing the friendly and familiar faces of photographers I’ve met year after year and the long but exciting days of workshops and greeting people at the NatureScapes booth. Photo Fest is simply a great event, and although I’m not sure what event coordinator Erin Masters has up her sleeve for next year, it’s bound to be awesome. We at NatureScapes sure hope you’ll considering joining us for all the fun!

Beginning of Photo Fest © Kari Post

When Jonathan pulled up at the Photo Fest with his 65 foot rig, festival organizer Erin Masters and workshop leaders Greg Downing, Alan Murphy, and Scott Elowitz were on hand to get him and the birds settled in. Take photos that tell the whole story of an event. You never know when you’ll need them. I composed this photograph to capture the festival sign, beautiful evening clouds, blooming prickly pear cactus, large trailer, and people, as they all add to the image, either by telling a part of the story, or just by looking pretty. I took several shots and bracketed exposures of the scene because of the harsh light. I was then able to recover some detail in the final image using Lightroom, Photoshop, and Nik plug-in filters. Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm f/4L USM, 1/125s, f/8, ISO 200, handheld.

Participants © Kari Post

Participants from the first of seven sold out workshops gather around to photograph one of the birds. When photographing workshop participants, pay extra careful attention to the direction and quality of light, since photographers will usually shoot with the light. This shot was taken when a thin cloud moved over the sun, softening it just enough while still providing beautiful shadows and depth to the image. Canon 7D, 17-40mm f/4L USM, 1/125s, f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

Barred owl wide angle © Kari Post

One advantage of shooting tame birds in controlled situations is the ability to get really close to your subject. Using a wide angle lens allows you to capture unique perspectives and include some of the habitat in your photographs. This barred owl, named Clicker, was pretty tame and allowed me to sit right next to his perch. I was careful to include some of the nearby palm trees in the background to give a better sense of the environment and to add some interest to what would have otherwise been a plain blue background of sky. 5D Mark II, 17-40mm f/4L USM, 1/200s, f/11, ISO 200, handheld.

Barred owl portrait © Kari Post

Captive subjects provide a great opportunity to experiment with different lenses, camera settings, techniques, and backgrounds. I used a 300mm f/2.8 lens with a 2x teleconverter to compress the scene and provide a beautiful out of focus green background for this portrait of Clicker. When using telephoto lenses, depth of field is quite thin, so it is important to focus precisely when shooting at wide aperture settings. Canon 5D Mark II, 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, 2x TC, 1/100s, f/5.6, ISO 200, tripod.

Aplomando falcon © Kari Post

Diffused overcast light is often very flattering for bird portraits, particularly ones with high contrast plumage such as this beautiful female Aplomado Falcon. When shooting with a telephoto lens, it is important to keep in mind that depth-of-field is very shallow. Because the background was far enough away and I was fairly close to the bird, I stopped down to f/13 in order to capture sharp detail on the bird’s breast feathers. Had I shot this wide open, just the eyes would have been sharp. Canon 5D Mark II, 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, 2x TC, 1/125s, f/13, ISO 400, tripod.

Jonathan with gyr takeoff © Kari Post

In this photo, master falconer Jonathan Wood releases a female gray phase Gyrfalcon into the air for our final flight workshop on Sunday morning. Story telling images can be just as important as photographing the birds themselves. I composed this shot knowing the bird would take off into the air once Jonathan raised his arm and used the high frames per second shutter drive to capture several frames in a row of the scene. In this one, the bird’s wings were positioned perfectly. Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, 1/3200s, f/4, ISO 250, handheld.

Lanner falcon flying © Kari Post

Flight photography of falcons requires high shutter speeds to freeze the action. Falcons, such as this African Lanner Falcon, are incredibly fast moving birds and can be quite difficult to photograph in the wild. Fortunately, the captive birds provided many opportunities for great shots, and by flying them over the dunes at sunrise, we were able to get some great light on the subjects reflected off the sand. All of Jonathan’s falcons wore small federal bands and radio transmitters while flying; I cloned them out of this photo rather easily. I also added a little canvas to this shot, which was cropped from horizontal. Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, 1/3200s, f/4, ISO 250, handheld.

About the Author

Kari is a self-described adventurer, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, conservationist, and nature lover. She loves being outside in nature, exploring the world around her, and doing just about anything that keeps her on the move. Kari picked up photography as a young girl and developed a serious passion for the still picture in high school. In college, she combined her photography hobby and love of nature and began photographing wildlife and outdoor subjects, which now make up the bulk of her work. Kari views photography as a way to share the beauty she sees in the natural world with others. She hopes her images can be used help educate and inspire others to appreciate, preserve, and protect wild places and creatures, and aspires to one day work as a photojournalist for National Geographic documenting conservation issues. Visit Kari's website at: www.karipost.com and her blog at: www.karipost.com/blog.

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