Raptor Photography Tips Part Two

I got a lot of feedback and questions from my last two posts and it seems like there is some interest in my articles, so I am yet again inspired to give this writing thing another shot. I just want to re-iterate that what I suggest or talk about here is what I do and what works for me – you will have to find your own way to your photography success.

1) Focus Point

I am going to start with focus point and where it should be, and that would be on the eye of the subject. There are many things that can be forgiven in photography, but a blurry eye is not one of them. All the power is in the eyes and your own eye will always be drawn there without you thinking about it. I am shooting with a Nikon D4 so this is Nikon terminology, I use Single Point AF Mode, because I am a control freak and don’t let the camera make the decisions for me. There is Dynamic Area AF Mode you might want to consider trying and see if it works for you, but don’t try it on a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

The insert in this photo will show you what I mean about ideal focus point location. The longer the focal length of your lens is and the shorter the distance to the subject, it becomes that much more important to precisely place your focus point on the eye. In a multiple subject shot, your focal point should be on the animal that is the closest to you.

Bald Eagle Catching Fish

NIKON D3X @ 600mm, ISO 200, 1/1000, f/4.5

There is also a story to this photo that is important in telling to prospective buyers and making the image mean something more to those who hear it. This will make the image more compelling and personal to them.

2) Room to Move

It is also important that you consider how you frame or crop the photo. I like to give the animal room to move or open space in the direction the animal is looking or heading. An image will not look as good, if for example, you have the subject placed against the right edge of the image and that is the direction it is heading. It will look like the animal has nowhere to go or about to fly / walk / etc off the edge. Have a look at this final version of my image and note that the bald eagle has room to fly further to the left of the image.

Bald Eagle low over water with fish

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 1250, 1/4000, f/5.6

Now I will crop it badly, so you can see a side-by-side comparison of what I mean by leaving room to move. The following image will show you the difference and you judge for yourself which one looks better:

Bald Eagle Sequence

To me and many others the subtle difference in the left image makes a huge difference to how it will be perceived.

3) Background Placement

What is the story you are trying to convey and how do you best display that in your image? Let’s revisit the snowy owls that I have been photographing for the last two months and done previous articles on.

I went out last two winter snow storms with the intention of getting dramatic photos of owls with snow falling as the backdrop and important part of the image. Darker colors over lighter ones in the backgrounds will show this snow falling more prominently and better convey the message of the image. This first image will show you a photo I am happy with, because I was able to move 15 feet to the right of my original position and place a nicer golden color behind the owl that contrasts with the white snow falling and will show beautifully in the final image.

Snowy Owl flying in Marsh Area

NIKON D4 @ 800mm, ISO 640, 1/1000, f/6.3

When I first found this owl, I was to the left of it with a white snow-covered marsh as the backdrop. Let me tell you that it is hard to convey a snowstorm with white as a back drop. The following image was taken during a more severe snow storm than the previous photo, but it just doesn’t look like it, because the snow doesn’t contrast with the background. This subtle difference in how you frame your subject can make a huge difference and should be taken into consideration. The below image is a beautiful photo, there is ice on the owls face, it’s eyes are almost closed because the heavy snow falling hurts it eyes and it is heading right for me. However, you just can’t see the snow falling, because it blends with the background and thus an important element of this story is missing.

Snowy Owl in Flight During Snow

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 640, 1/1600, f/6.3

4) Action or Motion Versus Static

You can’t always pick what is going to happen, but if you are ready for it when it happens, there are action sequences everywhere waiting to be captured. To me, an image with an animal running, flying, jumping or whatever can be very visually appealing and help tell a more dramatic story. Don’t get me wrong, there are many other ways to tell a story and one way that is very powerful in doing that, is animal interaction. Action is a little harder to capture, because it usually requires a quick reaction time and most likely you will need to pan to follow and capture it. I won’t show another owl photo to convey my point, as you have seen plenty of dramatic in-flight sequences and I hope you agree that action shots can be very appealing photos. The bald eagle shot below is one of my favorites – it is an action shot taken standing in a 17ft dingy, hand-holding a 600mm. It has drama, anticipation, beautiful early morning light, great composition and even the subtle tail feathers dragging across the surface help tell the story of this image. Also, a reminder about the frames per second importance I have mentioned before for action shots, the bald eagle with the fish at the very beginning of this article is the very next frame to the image below and both were taken approximately 1000th of a second apart.

Bald Eagle Grab Pose

NIKON D3X @ 600mm, ISO 200, 1/1000, f/4.5

5) Anticipation

Anticipation can be a frustrating photographic tool, because what you anticipate will happen doesn’t always turn out so. When it all comes together, the image you get can be so rewarding and will drive you further along in your photography adventures and skill level. Sometimes you have to wait hours in one spot for what you think might happen and sometimes things happen suddenly and unexpectedly, in either case, be ready for it.

My wife and I had just arrived at a bald eagle nesting site on a pond near our house, as we stopped to say hello to another boat that was eagle watching. I saw a streak of white movement far away in the middle of the pond. I realized it was a bald eagle flying low over water and then I saw a splash. The eagle had just grabbed a fish and was about to bring it back to the chicks in the nest. Here is where anticipation worked for me, I quickly moved my boat into a direct line of flight between the bald eagle and the nest hoping the eagle would take a direct route to the nest. In this instance the eagle not only took a direct route, it flew past our boat low over the water and within 30 feet of us. I snapped that 600mm around, focused on the face of the bird and held down the trigger following the bird until the angles were bad. The resulting bald eagle with a fish in its talons image is one of my favorite bald eagle photos. The lesson in this story is the fact I had learned the eagle habits and through that knowledge had put myself in a great location to possibly grab an action photo.

Bald Eagle catching Fish

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 500, 1/1600, f/6.3

6) Animal Interaction

I mentioned it briefly earlier that interaction is another powerful tool that helps tell stories and create more powerful images. Haven’t we all gone ‘oooh aaah’ at an image of a six month old bear cub cuddling with mum or some similar image? Having more than one animal in the photo presents more complications to the photographer, like multiple sets of eyes that generally need to be sharp. Let me show you an image of a bald eagle delivering fish to its eaglet that I just love and then I will explain the technical difficulties of this shot, which will in itself lead to other pointers for you.

Bald Eagle bringing food to Immature Eaglet

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 1250, 1/4000, f/5.6

This image has a story, the baby screaming for food about to arrive, the anticipation of the delivery, the interaction between the parent and the baby. There are many technical aspects to this image that are important and they are the following:

  • Two animals equal two sets of eyes. It would be great if both sets of eyes are sharp and it would be awesome if both sets of eyes are visible. I happen to be in the right spot to have both of these qualities happen. There was an element of luck in that happening, but I had at least placed myself in the right position for it.
  • Originally, I was photographing a single bird and because I was shooting with a prime lens, I was not able to zoom in or out. I happen to be at the right distance from the original single bird to allow for both to fit in the frame without clipping any of the birds. I think an image is much more powerful if there are no parts clipped off the central subjects.
  • There are no harsh shadows in this image, which can be a problem. Part of that is because it was 7 AM in the morning and the sun was still low and not so harsh, the other part to that is, I placed myself directly between the bird and the sun putting me in the best position for good light.
  • This image doesn’t come to you that often, think about what has to happen for you to get this image. The light has to be good, the action has to happen at the right time, you have to be in the right place, both eyes have to be visible if possible, both eyes have to be sharp, you have to be the right distance away so as not to crop anything, the image has to be sharp, the water in the background can’t look horrible like sometimes happen in bad light. That’s a lot of elements that need to come together at one time; this means you probably have to go out quite a few times before in happens to you. The moral of the story is, persistence pays off.

In closing, I would like to underline how powerful animal interaction is in telling the story. It is always harder to get interaction shots, because it requires a greater knowledge of your subjects and a lot more time and persistence. The animals have to be comfortable in your presence in order to display their natural behavior. Also as I have mentioned before, multiple subjects create technical challenges in getting compelling images. If animals accept your presence, they will give you a front seat view to their most intimate relationship and opportunities of a lifetime. The following photo shows two immature bald eagles two months old squabbling over food. We were able to get this photo, because we had been present since before their birth and they had become comfortable with us. Just remember to respect them and let them approach you and not the other way around!

Immature Bald Eagles fighting

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 640, 1/1600, f/4.5

7) Improving Your Chances of Success

There is a positive aspect to the predictability of nesting birds in the fact that they will constantly travel to the same location (nest), which opens opportunities to capture both action and interaction photos. Some examples of this would be a bird delivering fish to its nest and thus presenting you with flying shots, where the bird has prey in its talons. Another would be the interaction of the eaglets in the nest, and yet another would be action shots that happen when food is delivered. The babies come alive and interact with the parent, pop their heads up over the edge of the nest etc. There are also predictable patterns during the nesting period as to when parents will deliver food to their young ones and thus increase your chances of success.
On a cautionary note, respect the distance required, so as not to disturb the animals. Bald eagles have been known to abandon their nest and chicks, if constantly disturbed or afraid to approach their nest. So please don’t get over-zealous in getting the shot and in the process harm the very subject you are photographing.

The final image is that of nesting bald eagles and a parent about to drop off a fish to its hungry eaglets. Notice how the eaglets are standing tall in the nest looking forward to their next meal. Because of this, they have their heads in view and present a powerful photographic opportunity for you to tell their story. The presence of both parents on the nest, which is rarer than you might expect, adds to the story and presents a more compelling image.

Bald Eagle Fish Delivery

NIKON D4 @ 600mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.0

Happy shooting everybody and may the light be with you!

All images copyright Robert Andersen.


  1. 1) Alis
    February 16, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Robert
    Thank you very much for your article. Man, your pictures are so great!

    I have a question regarding focus settings. I found it very difficult to have the focus right when my dog is running directly towards me. If I can follow from the side, it works quite well but in the front, my pictures are usually blurry, meaning the focus point is not in the right place.
    My lens doesn’t have Af-S and relies solely on my camera (d7100) focus. I know it’s not the best but it was a compromise in budget.
    When I take these pictures I use AF-C Auto.
    Do you have a tipp?

    • 1.1) Richard D
      February 17, 2014 at 12:15 am

      Hi, Alis.

      I am no expert on this matter, but I do some freelance work, shooting a number of races throughout the year (5 Ks, 10Ks, marathons, half marathons, etc.) For these, the runners are always coming towards me as I sit just past the finish line.

      I have a Nikon D600 and previously used a D200 (which I still have for backup). I always use AF-C for these events, but I don’t use it in Auto. With the D600, I put it into AF-C using d-21 (21 focus points). I try to keep the middle focus point either on the runner’s bib or on his face as I shoot with either 3 frames per second or 5 fps. I don’t know what options you have with the D7100, though.

      You mention that your pictures are “blurry.” Another cause of a picture being blurry could be motion blur. When I shoot these runners, I try to shoot with fast shutter speeds. I usually try to shoot faster than 1/1000th of a second, although I still get crisp shots at slower shutter speeds. I had one client tell his photographers that we should shoot at least 1/500th of a second for these races, but, again, I try to shoot faster than this. I put my camera into Aperture priority, with the aperture close to being wide open.

      • 1.1.1) Alis
        February 17, 2014 at 12:29 am

        Hi Richard
        Thank you very much for your answer. No it’s not motion blur, I always try to shoot at 1/1000s but usually it’s faster.

        I found out that Aperture priority is only good, when the light is great. When the light is low, my camera will set up the shutter speed for example at 1/300s and it’s way to low for dogs running around. So now I only have Iso Auto (max 1600) and i shoot manually (f:4 hoping that the eyes are sharp and i get enough DOF lol) and 1/1000s at least.
        I shoot at 5fps.

        Here is an example. Shutter speed is high but the eyes are a bit blurry (i try to sharpen in LR) but I don’t really like it… http://www.flickr.com/photos/k9-photography/12350417505/

        • Richard D
          February 17, 2014 at 12:52 am

          Hi, Alis.

          I think those are some really nice pictures on your Flickr site. It’s hard for me to see that the eyes are a bit blurry, except maybe 1 or 2 shots. One thing I often do to see if something is blurry is to blow the picture up, but I don’t think I can do that on your Flickr site. I also enlarge pictures on my screen just to see where the point of focus is. I use Lightroom to edit my photos, but I understand that Aperture can show you where the actual focus point is in an image. That data is in all photos (at least in RAW mode), but LR just doesn’t allow you to see it.

          One thing I have been told by professional photographers is that if you are shooting a face that is tilted, focus on the eye that is closest to you…just like Robert’s suggestion that you focus on the closest subject, if there are multiple subjects in the frame.

          You’re right about Aperture mode working best when the light is great. I don’t use Auto ISO, but if I am shooting a race when the sun is just coming up and/or it is overcast, I’ll first try opening the aperture all the way if it isn’t already (I use a 70 – 200 mm f/4 for these races and have rented the f/2.8 version). If that doesn’t get me the shutter speed, then I crank up the ISO until I do. But, I carefully watch the lighting conditions and shutter speed because I don’t like using real high ISO, and I’ll drop it back down if there is enough light to still get fast shutter speeds I like.

          Just a comment….I usually don’t shoot at full aperture wide open because I want a little more DOF, but I will if I need to help get faster shutter speed. I usually shoot single runners vertically, but if there is a horizontal line of runners, perhaps locking arms when crossing the finish line, I close my aperture down closer to f/8 in order to get as much of the runners in focus as possible.

          • Alis
            February 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

            Thanks Richard
            I am really only a hobbyist :-)
            I also do that, blowing the picture up and that is how i noticed that often my eyes are not sharp. But i’ll keep working on it. Btw the d7100 even has 51 focus points and 3D tracking. But i haven’t found out yet what’s best.
            I don’t have Aperture, I’m (still) on Windows. But I photograph in RAW.
            I totally agree with ISO, i don’t like it too high, that is why I have the max at 1600. I’m still in the process of finding out what is still good and what is not anymore.

            I have a crop sensor so I bought a Tokina 50-135mm 2.8 (equivalent field of view of 70-200mm). This was the compromise. I wanted 2.8 aperture, but couldn’t afford the 70-200 2.8. Also it’s really heavy. I only shoot free hand, running behind working dogs, so the 70-200 is a bit heavy. But as I said the downside is no AF-S.

            I guess photography wouldn’t be fun if it was easy lol

            • Richard D
              February 17, 2014 at 1:16 am

              I’m pretty much a hobbyist as well, Alis, but I do some freelance work, as mentioned, with those races.

              I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use the focus points myself. The D600 has 39 focus points. As mentioned, for these races, I always use continuous focus mode, and I usually use the dynamic-21 point focusing. I read in the Nikon user’s guide for my camera that d-21 is best for running events, where a person is moving towards you. But, I also have in some occasions tried other dynamic focus modes (5 points or 39 points), as well as using single point focus. I think I get good results from all of these, but my impression is that while I probably get better results using single point focus on any given picture, overall I think I get better results using the dynamic-21 mode simply because it’s hard for me to keep a single point on a moving runner’s face, especially when I take so many shots at these events. I shot roughly about 4500 shots at an event a week ago, all within the time frame of about an hour and a half.

        • Richard D
          February 17, 2014 at 1:09 am

          I did just see a picture of a dog whose eyes are not in focus….but his nose is…it’s sticking out a bit, towards the camera!

          By the way, Alis. Looks like some of your pictures (maybe all?) are from Switzerland. Is that where you’re from? My first trip to Europe was to Switzerland. One of my sisters studied for a year in Besançon, France. I met her in Geneva. We traveled via train, starting in Lausanne, after Geneva, and through the Alps. Zermatt is one of my favorite places….I’ve been back several more times. I love the mountains.

          • Alis
            February 17, 2014 at 1:15 am

            :-) yes i know which one, the one where she is eating a stick lol I loved the expression on her face that is why I kept it anyway.

            Yes I live in Switzerland near Zurich. I grew up near Geneva and studied in Lausanne :-)

            I have some great shots of military dogs from the US Army from last December when I was there for a class in South Carolina (I’m a trailing K9 instructor) but I can’t post them online (it’s a shame because those are the best pics I ever took…)

            Where are you from?

            • Richard D
              February 17, 2014 at 1:25 am

              That’s the one….and, it is a nice picture!

              I also just saw another one of a black and white dog (Popeye) in which it appears that the focus is on the back of the dog’s neck instead of the eyes or anywhere else on the face.

              I grew up in the St. Louis, Missouri area, but I have lived in Chicago and its suburbs for a number of years. I also lived and worked in The Hague, The Netherlands, for 4 years. I loved living in Europe, where in addition to living there, I also have been on holiday 15 or 16 times. I moved from Chicago back to the St. Louis area (Clayton, Missouri) several years ago. I really want to go back somewhere in Europe soon. I still maintain contact with friends I used to work with in The Hague. Some are in The Hague and some in Belgium. I also keep in touch with good Finnish friends I used to work with…2 live in Munich and another Finnish friend is back home in Finland.

          • Alis
            February 17, 2014 at 1:32 am

            yes, Popeye was heading for the scent article (needed to find the person the dog is searching for). No time to set up, so this is what happened lol
            For me it’s important when I take pictures of working dogs to express their drive for the work so sometimes I compromise on the quality (here the focus).

            I love traveling too :-) With the dogs it’s difficult to come overseas. But my trainer is in South Carolina and gives us a place to stay. I hope I can go back next year. I also like France very much (i’m half French) and we’ll probably head towards Biarritz (south west, atlantic coast) this summer where my brother lives.

            I’ll be in the North of Germany (Lübeck) in March for a seminar in in the East (Leipzig) in September (also for a seminar). I hope I’ll get some free time and good weather to shoot some pics (not only of dogs lol).

            • Richard D
              February 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

              Alis, you make me want to go back to Europe even more, now! Traveling and photography are two of my favorite things. After my sister Mary and I traveled about in the Swiss Alps, we went to Paris, where I turned 24 years old. I’ve been there a few more times, as well as other places in France like Marseilles, Nice, Lyon, St. Malo and other places. The last time I went was to Lille, when I was working in Europe. A French friend of mine I worked with had a sister studying there. The time before my last trip, I went skiing with a few friends of mine that I worked with in Avoriaz. I haven’t been to the southwest of France, though….would like to go one day.

              I have another sister who studied in Munich, where I’ve been many times. I actually was in East Berlin at midnight on October 3, 1990, Unification Night. So much fun and history. I really do love travelling! :-)

            • Alis
              February 17, 2014 at 9:57 am

              Some nice places you traveled to :-)
              It’s funny you want to come to Europe and I’d like to go to Yellow Stone or Cananda or other places in the USA LOL

            • Alis
              February 18, 2014 at 8:32 am

              Hey Richard!
              Took your advise and set the focus on 21 points AF-C.
              It was easier with this dog because he was slower. I was careful to focus on the eyes. I think it came out quite good :-)
              Thanks again!

    • February 17, 2014 at 5:53 am


      It looks like Richard D has taken care of this question while I slept :) – Thanks

    • 1.3) Luc
      February 17, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Hi Alis
      I had the same problem with my D7100 up to the time I changed in the “Custom Setting Menu” the option “a autofocus” a3 “Focus tracking with lock-on” to “off” position. This will prevent your AF from waiting between repositionning the AF distance . When set other than in the “off” position it is preventing when something or somebody is passing in front of your subject and your camera position to refocus on that new subject , but if in your case its only your subject that its moving to you it can make a difference where he is located at the shooting time and where your lens focused the last time. To make your AF faster try to switch to only 9- 11 points if possible. The lower the number of focus points the more reactive the AF will be.

      • 1.3.1) Alis
        February 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        Hi Luc
        Thanks for your reply. I already had the setting for a3 on “off”.
        I didn’t know about the focus points! I always thought, the more, the better :-)


        • Luc
          February 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

          I read that if you use 51 points the camera computer is always looking if your subject has moved from your focus point to any of them. From what I understand is that you can set inspection points (4,8,20,50) to keep track of the area focused on with your focus point, so the more points you set to this task means more time to inspect them. It is also recommended to use 51 points only in the cases, you have no idea how the subject will move from its actual position (difficulty to pan it), or if you place your camera on a tripod and switch to 3D tracking. Always pan your subject with your original point if possible, the other points will help doing that. For fast action like following a runner, 9 points is ok, and shoot in burst (5 frames / sec) instead of in single mode, to get more chance to have more keepers.


          PS: There is a V.G . ebook named : Nikon d7100 experience-v1-0 on page 227 section 11.2 moving subjects that explain clearly this. Douglas J. Klostermann. I think you can still get Nikon AF information free on his site.

        • Luc
          February 18, 2014 at 7:38 pm

          Me again
          There is a 10 pages pdf you can download called the D7000_AF_Explained.pdf located on this site, that explain the way the Nikon AF modes are working, and when to use one setting over another.

          http://www.pixelfinesse.com see articles there is only one

          have a great day

          • Alis
            February 19, 2014 at 12:59 am

            Thank you very much Luc!

            • Luc
              March 15, 2014 at 10:22 am

              Hi Alis
              A very interesting review on the D7100 done by a guy owning a D800E and a D700 and a D7100 . He covers everything like the AF system and how he uses it. Its an extra review that compares to Nasim. He prefers the D7100 for wildlife photography, while mentionning that the AF is particularly accurate with long lenses.

              Have a nice day and good reading

            • Alis
              March 15, 2014 at 10:29 am

              Hi Luc
              Thank you very much. I read the document about the Nikon AF on pixelfinesse you had given me.
              My pictures are better but I found out it depends on the lens I use. The best results I got so far were with the prime lens 180mm 2.8. The pictures are really sharp. I have more problems with the Tokina 50-135 2.8. Both are lenses without AF-S. I will read the review with much interest. Thanks for sharing.

  2. 2) Manjul Agarwal
    February 16, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Robert
    Stunning Photos
    QUick question & pardon me for asking…
    Hand-held or on a Tripod +/- any Panning

    • February 17, 2014 at 5:57 am

      Most of my Raptor Photography is handheld but not all. I will use a tripod and gimble when possible or I feel it is the right thing for that occasion.

      There are several reasons I prefer to hand hold
      – I pan and move more freely hand holding
      – I am more accurate and smooth panning while handholding
      – Lots of times I am in a canoe or 17ft dingy which both bobble in the water and hand holding is a must


  3. 3) Tom Crossan
    February 16, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    What a great article and what wonderful images.

    It got the photography juices going and I know what I am doing this weekend.

    • February 17, 2014 at 5:58 am

      Its all about those juices – Just remember you will make mistakes and thats why there is always a next time and opportunity to still get those shots – have fun !!


  4. February 17, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Robert, thank you for your tips and for sharing your AMAZING shots to help illustrate your points! They are enthralling!

    I recently caught an intense moment of interaction between 3 bald eagles in what I could only describe as a “nest defense” interaction. I was using a Nikon 300mm f2.8 with 2x Teleconverter on my D3s and still had to crop quite a bit due to the distance to the nest from the shooting location (we were later able to move closer, but there was no more of this intense action to capture from the closer location).

    What’s done is done, but I would like your advice on what I can do to help the photo “pop” more, as I feel it is lacking… SOMETHING. The day was pretty heavy overcast and the sky is a very bland light grey. I don’t want to compromise the integrity of the shot by compositing in a more dynamic sky, but I’d like to see if you have any advice on giving it a little more color or drama.

    Thanks again for the pointers. Look forward to more amazing shots and helpful pointers!

    – Taco

    Here is the photo in question: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thexrealxtaco/12441148443/

    • February 17, 2014 at 6:10 am

      WOW !!! – What a photo, but you are not going to like my answer.

      There is nothing you can do about a bad photo to make it good without wholesale removing and replacing the sky in Photoshop or something and that would no longer make it a photograph :)

      Your image is great in composition, action, framing – but remember when I spoke about a lot of elements coming together to get a great image – the one element missing here is an overcast day. It is not your fault and it is what I would call a CRY SHOT.

      There really are only 3 possible answers here
      1: Present and be happy with the photo even with the sky as it is
      2: Replace the sky with beautiful blue sky or something – This will take away from you as a photographer and can always be detected – What would you do if National Geographic called to use this image if you had done that
      3: Keep going out and chase that shot – it or something similar might just come along that you will be extremely happy with.

      From my point of view and my own personal set of guidelines – I hate doing raptor flying shots on overcast days – the photos just don’t look the way I want them at the end of the day and I am never happy – There are some photos that look OK with that sky but I prefer a sky that is lightly cloudy or has blue tones in it. Semi cloudy can look better than pure blue as long as there are hints of blue.

      Anyways, that’s my thought on this as honestly as I can relay them, hope it helps

      • February 17, 2014 at 3:03 pm


        I was actually HOPING that was what you would say. Here’s why: I want to have done the best I could with what I had to work with. As long as I’ve gotten the most out of the situation, I’m happy with the finished work. As you said, I was all but PRAYING for a break in the clouds, just for a moment, but it was not to be.

        I knew what I was working with and while it provided nice even lighting for my subjects, shooting with it as a background just sucked!

        But, so goes nature. I am still thrilled to have caught such an intense moment and gotten as good a shot from it as a result. It definitely could have gone much worse!

        Thanks for your reply!

    • 4.2) Colin Scott
      February 17, 2014 at 6:57 am


      I just have to say, I think that shot is awesome.

      • February 17, 2014 at 7:12 am

        I agree – I would love to have been there and seen it, I would have love to have photographed it – It is stunning !!!

        However, I would also have wished for more perfect lighting – it is a personal standard we all end up setting for ourselves especially the photographers who strive for magical perfect moments.

      • February 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm

        Thanks, Colin. As you can tell, it was a little bit skill (preparation and just being there at all) and a LOT of luck. Thank God Nikon gave me good glass and 9fps or I am certain I would have missed it!

  5. 5) Tim
    February 17, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Thank you for a great article and great advice! I will attempt to focus on eyes from now on!!

    • February 17, 2014 at 6:12 am

      It is more important when you are closer and full framing a bird – long distance setting shots you can be focused on the nest or bird if you get my drift


      • 5.1.1) Tim
        February 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm

        Gotcha!! I just started trying to shoot raptors in January. I have a Canon 400mm, f5.6 prime that I put a 1.4x extender on and went out backpacking on Washington State’s Olympic Coast in search of an eagle. The eagles there are quite skittish and it was difficult to find yourself in any sort of range of them. But I did have one fly by me and I did my best to shoot it hand held with the Auto-Server keeping focus going. They came out pretty nice, although looking at them, not nearly as crisp as your photos. So I am wondering what can be done to make them sharper. I was quite happy with them, until seeing your pictures and realizing how much more detailed one can make a photograph!!!

  6. 6) Richard D
    February 17, 2014 at 12:22 am

    Very nice pictures, Robert. I was just out Friday taking pictures of eagles for the first time in Clarksville, Missouri, right on the Mississippi River.

    I agree 100% with your comments about focusing, although I have found that with the shooting I have done for races (see above), it’s hard to focus on someone’s eyes, and with the shooting I did Friday of the eagles, for the most part, they were far away, and it was difficult to use a single focus point. That’s why I use dynamic-21 focus point shooting for the races I take pictures of; same for the eagles….just couldn’t keep the focus point on an eye.

    Thanks for the interesting and informative article.

    • February 17, 2014 at 6:14 am

      Good stuff – It takes practice, Its OK to use dynamic AF, just be prepared that sometimes the camera will choose the wrong spot to focus on. Photography is a personal choice and everybody must find what works for them :)


      • 6.1.1) Richard D
        February 17, 2014 at 9:22 am

        I’m a member of 2 photography Meetup groups. One is a studio group. The photographer who runs this group very often stresses the need to focus on the closest eye of the person you are photographing. So I pay close attention to trying to do that. You can really see a difference in an image if it is properly in focus.

        I read some of your other comments, which I also agree with. When I went out last Friday to shoot eagles, it was very cold, with snow and freezing rain, and it was quite overcast. Most of my shots did have the flat gray sky, and I do wish it had more blue or you could see outlines of clouds. That was the first time I really had gone out to shoot eagles, so I’m happy with the pictures I took, but, again, wish I could have gotten some with blue sky. I did use LR to increase the amount of blue in a few shots, where there was some blue to start with. I also cropped a number of my pictures to get the birds off center and look like they’re heading towards something. It’s always nice when I get confirmation of something I’ve done from a professional photographer, especially so quickly after I had taken those pictures a few days ago!

        • Robert Andersen
          February 17, 2014 at 10:07 am

          Awesome stuff – don’t stress about weather you can’t do anything about, just keep getting and blue sky and eagles will come :)


  7. February 17, 2014 at 1:06 am

    In order to shoot birds actions, what would be the Ideal focal length?

    • February 17, 2014 at 6:23 am

      This is a tough question, I don’t want to step on the likes of Moose Peterson and other who get into technical jargon on this but here is my best layman’s answer:

      I started with a 70-200, progressed to a 200-400, then eventually bought a 600mm. So as you can see, I kept getting bigger lenses and there are two reasons I did that.
      1/ I want closer and more detailed photos
      2/ I wanted my photos to be high quality, crisp and sharp

      I shot with a 200-400 mm for many years and it performed great for me. I think that is a great focal length choice, the counter thing I would say to that is I shoot most of my bird photography with the 600mm now because that extra reach really pays off. It comes down to what you can afford or are willing to spend and what quality you are striving for in the final image.

      You can get to the longer focal lengths with the use of tele-converters, but because I am a perfectionist and my wife is too, we prefer the sharper image a prime lens gives. The only tele-converter shots I was personally happy with from the Nikon gear was the 1.4 TCII which I though had the least impact on the sharpness of the photo.

      Again – this is really a personal choice and driven by your own desires for better photography


      • 7.1.1) Sylvester
        February 17, 2014 at 9:56 am

        Thank you.

  8. 8) Crunch Hardtack
    February 17, 2014 at 5:38 am

    As a personal taste, I prefer the first photo of the owl with the darker background. the owl stands out better as compared to the second photo where a predominantly white owl is somewhat lost in a white background. I also prefer the eye contact the bird is giving with the photo viewer in the first frame. In the end, it’s all a matter of preference, just preference.

  9. 9) Thomas Stirr
    February 17, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Hi Robert,

    Loved your article and the many terrific tips and beautiful images!

    I’ve been researching telephoto lens options so I can expand my shooting into more birding and nature. Right now I use a D800 with a Nikkor 70-200 f/4 and the TC-17E II teleconverter. This gives me 340mm at f/6.7 with some IQ loss from the teleconverter. I also use a Nikon 1 V2 with the FT-1 adapter. That same lens/teleconverter combination on the V2 gives me an efov of 918mm at f/6.7 and it works very well for static subjects, but I find it doesn’t focus fast enough for birds in flight.

    I have the 30-110 Nikon 1 lens and when I can get close enough it is great for birds in flight as the V2 will maintain auto focus at 15 fps. I’m hoping that Nikon comes out with the rumored 70-300 Nikon 1 lens as it would have an efov of 189-810 mm and maintain the focusing and frame speed of the V2.

    Another potential offering from Nikon is the long rumored update to the 300mm f/4….with the 1.7 teleconverter I’d have 510mm at f/4 in full frame format….or 810mm efov at f/4 with my V2 natively, or 1377mm efov with the 1.7 teleconverter. Like a lot of Nikon shooters I’ve been waiting for that lens for a long time now.

    I’ve also been investigating the Tamron 150-600 VC and the early reviews look very promising. I certainly realize that the IQ isn’t going to match a dedicated telephoto like a 400mm, 500mm or 600mm…but on the positive side it is still small enough to shoot hand held and the zoom would provide some flexibility in terms of framing shots.

    Just wondering what lenses you would recommend for Nikon shooters who want extra reach but have a budget limit of $1,500.00 or less.


    • February 17, 2014 at 6:40 am

      HI Tom

      I would have said the new Nikon 80-400mm would make a great birding lens but it’s just over two grand, so it doesn’t fit your budget at this point. You already have the 70-200 which is a great lens, the next alternative is a longer focal length which no matter how you think about it is always more expensive. Welcome to the joy of having photography as a hobby :).

      Maybe there are Tamron or Sigma lense that would work in your price range and you could check those out. It a balance between price / budget and quality and you have to decide. If it was me, I would wait and build my budget for the 800-400 as the next step up, but that’s if it was me :)

      Hope I didn’t torture you with that answer


      • 9.1.1) Thomas Stirr
        February 17, 2014 at 6:57 am

        Hi Rob,

        I did try out the 80-400 VR with my Nikon 1 V2…..and it worked very well indeed! I took a few shots indoors at my Nikon dealer at 1/80th of a second with an efov of 1080mm and found that the resulting images were surprisingly sharp. The VR on the 80-400 seems to do an incredible job. That lens is on sale right now at $400 off so it is tempting!

        My professional work is centred on industrial photography and corporate/safety videos so any investment in a longer telephoto for nature/wildlife right now is likely a stepping stone before making a more serious investment down the road.

        Thanks for your reply….I’ll have to give the 80-400 more consideration.

        • Robert Andersen
          February 17, 2014 at 7:05 am

          As a side note – good quality lenses get great re-sale prices later, especially if you look after them. So maybe think of it as investment of sorts – :)


          • Thomas Stirr
            February 17, 2014 at 7:19 am

            Hi Rob,

            Yes, I have certainly found that investing in good quality lenses makes sense from a resale value perspective. I used to own a D7000 and some of the better quality DX Nikkor lenses like the 10-24, 16-85, 35 f/1.8G, and the 85 micro. I also used to have a Nikkor 70-300 VR. As I transitioned away from the DX format (I now shoot with Nikon FX and CX gear) I was able to sell all of that DX gear quite easily and found that it held its resale value quite well. The 70-300 went very quickly and at a very good price…so you’re absolutely right…investing in good, quality glass does pay off if, and when, you go to sell it down the road.


  10. 10) Richard
    February 17, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I was a long time D300 user, and fond of the single focus point. I recently obtained a D600 and have not found the single focus point being available or the same as it is on D300. Any suggestions (help)?

  11. 11) Brian
    February 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for another well-written and informative article. One minor thing, you say “and both were taken approximately 1000th of a second apart” but I think you mean 1/10th second.

    • February 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      Hello Brian

      Thanks – What’s a couple of zero’s between friends :)

      You are correct, I missed that when reviewing the article – the 100oth is actually the shutter speed, sorry about that


  12. 12) Tom Crossan
    February 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Hi Robert

    I strikes me from reading these and other comments in Photographylife that a few readers are looking for that magic silver bullet in order to get that great image. They want that magic combination of DOV, focus etc to get that winner without having to do any real leg work, and understand how their camera works.

    I started photography back in the early 60’s and always tried to keep a written record of the shots that I took regarding focus, f stops etc. Of course then we had to wait a while for the slides to come back, and what you took was what you got back.

    Nothing beats finding out for yourself how your camera and lens work and what works for you.

    That moment when you look at the image and think “Yes – I nailed that one.” It may sound strange, but numerous times while by myself at the computer I have yelled out “YES”.

    It is a great feeling knowing that all your work, knowledge and skill finally paid off in that millisecond when you took that shot. It may not happen for a few more hundred captures.

  13. 13) Dennis
    February 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Photo of eagle catching fish is a great shot but it looks kind of cartoonish.Did you overdo the photoshop on this?

    • February 17, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      Not sure how to answer this question – We don’t process our images that much and generally have a fairly constant process – slight detail enhancement – adjust exposure – +3 on saturation – remove CCD dust spots and crop

      Thats about all we do with any image

      • 13.1.1) Dennis
        February 17, 2014 at 8:20 pm

        Ok that’s fair, it’s just that the others look more natural but then again it could be just me!! The owl is the best I’ve ever seen though!!!

  14. 14) Blaine
    February 17, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks for the article and the magnificent photos Robert. If those Eagle shots don’t illustrate the power of having the eye in focus, I don’t know what would.

  15. 15) Alex McManus
    February 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Keep writing, your articles are informative and inspiring!

    I’ve been practising with setting a single focus point on the eyes. How do you get the focus point in the right part of the frame, so that the picture is framed appropriately? Do you predict the direction of travel and set the focus point appropriately ahead of time? Or shoot wide and crop later? Or, are you really adept at moving the focus point in the frame on-the-hoof?

    I struggle to get both a tight crop and have the focus point in the right part of the frame with fast moving subjects, so I’m interested on how you do this.

    Thanks, Alex.

  16. 16) André Bherer
    February 23, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Mr.Anderson, I guess im again to late on this article to have an answer but ill try anyway.
    I am me too a adept of single point focusing mostly with the af-o (recomposing ) technique.
    But heres where im having difficulties understandig some slight points.
    1- if there are many birds in the frame moving erraticaly but you are still able to focus on your main subject. Does using lets say 39 af point could come at an advantage or if you focus precisley where you want the ”depth of field will do its job regardless.
    2- Why do they try to market us camera with many focus point if single is the way to go most of the time for experience photographers ….. And When are those CROSS-TYPE focus point comes into play ?
    3- Is it true that if you choose more focus points idf you keep pressing o Af the camera will follow your target more easily?

    Thats a lot of question but I still dont know why they market camera with soo many focus point if i get great results with single point… could my technique get better using more than a single points sometimes ?

    • February 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm


      I am not sure I know how to answer this Q
      I’ll start with the fact that they have many focus points so you can move the spot around and compose your shot while on the eye of the subject which is not always in the center.

      Many birds erratically – I would probably close my eyes and pray

      I take it when you refer to 39 af points – you are talking dynamic focusing where the camera helps out, by choosing the focus spot ?

      There is an article somewhere that goes in great depth to explain Nikon Focusing system, maybe this will help you better than I can
      h t tp : //w w w.pixelfinesse.com/_docs/D7000_AF_Explained.pdf


  17. 17) André Bherer
    February 23, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Hi thank you very much for the great link it is exactly what I needed , sorry to have confused you my English isn’t that good!!
    I’ve misread you are using Af-S , I am using AF-On technique wich is ( single, dynamic and manual) All at the same time.
    But I mostly use single point in dynamic , (single point in conjunction with the AF-on button) wich is pretty much the same has AF-S (single)
    But that article really helped me better understand how multiples focus points ( 9,21,39,)” works;
    Is it still your center focus point (even if you place it off center ) that focuses where you place it ….the points all around the initial focus point helps out if the subject (eye of the subject ) goes out of bound/focusing range
    ill give it a better try ! thank you !

  18. 18) Steven Schiff
    March 7, 2014 at 10:30 am

    These shots are great but there is no way picture #7 was taken only 1/1000 second after picture #1, as mentioned in point #4. The D4 shoots at 10 frames per second, which means two consecutive pictures must be at least 1/10 of a second apart.

    • March 7, 2014 at 10:45 am

      It was a typo (shutter versus fps) – sorry – D3X was approximately 4.5 frames per sec on a good day, so about 1/5 of a second between the 2 frames.


  19. 19) Riad
    March 14, 2014 at 5:11 am

    Hello Richard,

    When having too or three birds in the picture and you want them all sharp, do you focus in the middle? Two birds ( one left, one right with space between them ), do you focus on the space between them? When doing motion photography like birds and marathons, do you always use a tripod or bean bag?


  20. 20) Riad
    March 15, 2014 at 1:49 am

    Sorry, it’s Robert not Richard ;)
    Adding to my questions above, do You use spot metering?


    • 20.1) Robert Andersen
      March 15, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      No worries :)

      I generally like to use matrix metering – has worked the best for me so far, occasionally I change to spot but mostly difficult shooting conditions,


  21. 21) Riad
    March 15, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Sorry, it’s Robert not Richard ;)

    Adding to my questions above, do you use spot metering?

  22. 22) Riad
    March 15, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Hello Robert ( sorry, not Richard)
    When having too or three birds in the picture and you want them all sharp, do you focus in the middle? Two birds ( one left, one right with space between them ), do you focus on the space between them? When doing motion photography like birds and marathons, do you always use a tripod or bean bag?
    Do you use spot metering?

    PS: I have sent two comments before, but they did not appear…

    Read more: https://photographylife.com/raptor-photography-tips-part-two#ixzz2w13KkNUE

    • 22.1) Robert Andersen
      March 15, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      this might be a tough question to answer without more detail or sample photo.

      You can’t focus on the space between them, I normally focus on the closest one to you and the central figure your eye is drawn too – all sharp probably not possible with long focal lengths and dof issues – short focal lengths maybe – but its a tough question without some sort of sample photo – distance from subjects – size of group of birds etc.

  23. 23) Robert Andersen
    March 15, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    No worries :)

    I generally like to use matrix metering – has worked the best for me so far, occasionally I change to spot but mostly difficult shooting conditions,


  24. January 6, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    What a well written article.. Precise and informative. I’ve been doing bird photography for a year now and I have with me Nikon D5100 with 55-300 DX lens. Certainly waiting to upgrade my body and lens. Thank you so much Rob for pushing me forward :)

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