Monday, December 30, 2013

What Went Wrong -Snowy Owl at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge

Final post-processed picture, in which I inserted a dark cloud background, since the original picture was white on white
After photographing the Sanderlings at Third Beach, my son and I went up to the parking lot of the refuge at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge to see if we could locate and photograph one of the snowy owls that have been reported at the refuge. The parking lot at the refuge was almost completely filled and people were parking on the side of the road. Most of them were there to see the snowy owl. We finally got a parking space, put tripods lenses and cameras together and started to walk down the path toward the ocean. We met a birder coming up the path and when we asked her about the snowy owl she gave us directions on where to find it. On the way to the location we looked at and photographed some of the sea ducks that were present along with a Horned Grebe. The snowy owl was located out on the rocks and we could photograph the snowy owl from the cliff side. There were a number of the photographers there some of which I knew. The biggest problem at the beginning was the snowy owl was facing into the sun which was on our right. Utilizing some test pictures and and looking at my histogram and blinkies I set my exposure. I sat down on the edges of the cliff and took a variety of photographs of this beautiful bird. Waves were hitting the rocks be behind the snowy owl and I captured that with horizontal and vertical photographs. As the sun began to slowly set in the West the light became more golden and the snowy owl became more active. The snowy owl first regurgitated a pellet.

Now here is what went wrong. I was utilizing my 500 mm lens on my Nikon D800, and since the wind was blowing in from the West I knew the bird would take off into the wind. I set my focus point in the camera on the left side of my viewfinder and focused on the snowy owl's eye. This way when it took off I should be able to follow and pan with the owl to get some nice flight shots. As the sun set in the  west, the light became dimmer, I increased my ISO up to 1250 so I would have enough speed to capture hopefully the flight sequence.

Snowy owl's location on the rock
Set up on my focus point on the snowy owl
Next what happened is the owl did not move, so people were starting to pack up. I was getting to my feet when the owl took off and I was able to get my focus point on the owl's eye. The problem was the focus point was still on the left side of the screen and though I got a great picture, I did cut off part of the tail and the left-wing. The eyes were in focus however.
Original capture of the snowy owl
Location of the focus point on the original capture
Another image of the snowy owl in flight

I have the center button of the rear multi-selector dial set when pressed to return the focus point to the center, however, because I was trying to follow the bird and keep it in focus I could not take my finger away from the button on the rear that I have programmed to do my focusing. What I really should have done was set the focus point back to the middle just before I started to get up from my sitting position.  Also, once the snowy owl took off to the left, it immediately turned and flew up right above our heads and then turned around and flew back to the rock. When the snowy owl flew  so close to us, I had too much lens for the distance that it was.  I decided to travel with only my 500 mm lens and camera and tripod. If I had my other camera with the 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens I would have had a much better chance at capturing some great flight shots. My son who was with me and was utilizing his 50-500 mm Sigma lens did obtained some nice flight pictures.