BRENT PENNINGTON Bald Eagle in flight at Mongaup Falls Reservoir in NY on the afternoon of 09 February 2013.

The goal, naturally, is to create more photos like the one above. And far, far fewer like the one that’ll appear after the break. My last eagling trip was one of my best yet; the activity I saw ties for first place. Yet I managed to really screw up the shooting and lost out on a too many really great moments. So I’ve made a list of why I screwed up, and what I’m going to do to fix it, and I’m sharing it here as a sort of public acknowledgement, and to help make sure I follow through.

Bad eagle photo

Here’s what went wrong, ‘cause let’s just get that out of the way first:

  • I got too excited at how awesome the action was and lost track of the photography
  • I stopped reviewing my instruments and data (exposure, histogram, etc) to make corrections
  • I let my shutter speed fall way too low at the end
  • I was dividing my time between my own shooting, and trying to make sure that my brother’s settings were good for him and helping coach him along.

Looking at the list, some of the things on it seem legit. Stupid, but legit. Others sound a little bit like excuses. But it is what it is, and the shoot is over, and I’ve got to live with the results. From your perspective, the results may look pretty good. After all, I not only have access to eagles, but managed to get a handful of darn good images of them. But let me put it into perspective:

  • I shot 812 frames during the day
  • of those, 89 survived the first editing pass
  • 44 made it to the final edit
  • that’s a 5.42% keeper rate, which just for reference is half my usual rate

So to make sure that this never happens again… actually, that’s wishful thinking, so let me start again: to lower the odds of this happening again, quite this badly, I’ve got a list of items to take with me next time. I may tape it to the center of my steering wheel. Here it is:

  • shutter speed of at least 1/800 (shutter speed of 1/1250 or higher is even better)
  • ISO starts at 400 and goes up to preserve shutter speed as necessary
  • aperture of f/8 is ideal; f/6.7 to meet shutter speed requirements if necessary
  • Center-weighted averaging metering
  • watch for exposure shifts (ice-based background vs. forest-based)
  • if panning, OIS to mode 2 (otherwise mode 1)
  • nail down center block vs. center point AF point pattern
  • frequent review of histogram and captured images to ID and correct issues
  • if possible, work with C-AF and C-AF Tracking modes**

**(This last item only applies to times when the eagles aren’t active or in range, but maybe I’ve got some ducks or mergansers I can work with.)

Welcome to photography. It’s a constant learning curve and you can’t stop paying attention to the process, or it gets away from you. Seems I need a hard reminder of that every now and then…

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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