I had a couple of lucky spottings last week, each of which I was not quite prepared for.
On Tuesday, as I was going from work to my film photography class, I spotted terns fishing near the 7th Street pumping station — first time I’ve seen them doing this in about a year. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a while, because the shots I got before weren’t all that great, so I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying any of my long lenses, so I rushed back to the office, where I had left my 300mm f/4.5. I could have snagged my tripod at the same time, except then I would have had to carry it all night, and besides, a tripod and a standard ball head weren’t going to be much help in following the fast, bizarre flight of terns fishing, so I didn’t even bother.
This meant I had to crank the shutter speed, lean against anything I could, and hope for the best while handholding it. I didn’t get any heroic, ultimate tern shots, but I did get a few usable ones, with more detail than previously, including some of the more fantastic postures the birds assume before and during their dives.
I haven’t yet hit the books to identify these guys — terns aren’t a type of bird I know well, and many of look very, very similar to one another. This is irksome, but nearly so much as Sparrow identification. ::shudder::
On Wednesday, I was leaving work to again go to my class — end of the semester, and I wanted to wrap up my remaining assignments. (Which was tricky, because I had to make nine prints and I only had about seven pieces of paper left. I almost made it work (some of the prints were 5×7), but screwed up the last one and had to borrow a few sheets to finish. Almost had the hat trick….)
Anyway, as I was leaving work, I practically stepped on this gigantic Red-Tailed Hawk that was just hopping around the parking lot. This was pretty weird — we don’t see Red-Tails all that often, and when we do, it’s generally just long enough for them to make a pass at some of the ducks or coots, and then get chased off by the crows. And they don’t generally hang out on the ground. Maybe there was some prey it was after that I didn’t see.
Now, this time I was carrying a moderately long lens — my 180mm f/2.8 P. I could have run back into the office for the 300mm again (some days I carry it with me, but I’ve been trying not to do it every day, for my back’s sake), but my experience is that going somewhere and coming back and hoping that the raptor you saw was still there is…risky. So I went for the 180mm instead.
These shots were tricky for a few reasons. The lens wasn’t really long enough, so I had to crop in pretty aggressively if I wanted to fill the frame. I also had to deal with the fact that the bird was lit from a very awkward angle, meaning that the eye, for the most part, was in pretty deep shaddow. I did what I could to expose appropriately in-camera (getting as much detail in the face as possible without blowing out the highlights in the legs more than would be acceptable), and spent a fair amount of time in post-processing bringing up shadow detail where it seemed appropriate.
I didn’t get any usable shots of the bird on the ground, but instead of taking off, it decided to do me a solid (or at least a semi-solid) by flying to perch at the top of a small, very pointy statue we have near the parking lot. (A memorial for one of Police Services officers.) this would have been awesome if I could have finished circling around and shot it front-lit, but I didn’t get a chance for that.
Still, the opportunity was quite a gift, and I did as muchw it as I could.