I had a chance to meet Jason & Nicole Hahn for their Birds of Prey Nature Photography Workshop (http://www.outdoorphotoworkshops.com/) near their home in central Florida. Having shot with Jason in the field before and hearing other folks talk about their workshops, I knew that it would be an enjoyable, productive trip. As I drove far into the night on Friday, I was questioning my decision.
But my decision was primarily made on wanting to get an environmental portrait of a southeastern American kestrel. The population of these diminutive little falcons that are native to the Deep South and breed in the open, frequently burned piney woods is declining precipitiously. I wanted an image that showed one of these photogenic little falcons in their native habitat. And I knew that there just might be that opportunity on this workshop. I also knew that there would be an opportunity to photograph a dozen or so other species of raptors. As it ended up (if my mental recall is correct), we had an opportunity to photograph 18 individual birds of 14 different species.
Nicole was great on the phone and via e-mail leading up to the workshop, and I could tell that she was organized. I had no idea how organized until she opened her 3-ring binder with releases and information as she checked us into the workshop! I knew that Jason and I shared a similar approach to photographing wildlife, but wasn’t aware that his approach to workshops was similar to that shared by Gary Carter (www.garycarterphotos.com) and myself – do everything you can to make sure the participants are getting the shot before you pick up your own camera. Jason and Nicole make a great team for a workshop participant, whether the photographer has just got their first camera or has been photographing for decades.
We met at the rehabilitation facility where we were going to shoot. The facility rescues, rehabilitates, and reconditions raptors for release into the wild. The birds that we got a chance to photograph were not candidates for release, either because of an injury or because of early imprinting on humans rather than their own kind. These avian ambassadors allowed for up close photographic opportunities that would take months and months of field time to have a slight chance of getting something as good in the wild.
We started out photographing a trio of owl species, and then quickly moved on to the kestrels – the main reason that I was there. And I was able to create an image of a kestrel that is obviously in a southern longleaf pine habitat (except that it was really in an old pasture).
A southeastern American kestrel perched on a longleaf pine branch.
Jason was really good about thinking through shot opportunities out loud all through the workshop. He constantly talked about camera settings, backgrounds, compositions, perspectives, etc. And it was his prodding to “not forget a profile shot” that resulted in me getting this shot of a kestrel apparently peering from a nesting/roosting cavity. (Yes, kestrels are cavity nesters.)
A kestrel peers from a cavity entrance.
Having lived on the Satilla River within a mile or so of 7 different swallow-tailed kite nests per season for a few nesting seasons, I’ve had many, many opportunities to see and photograph flying and nesting swallow-tailed kites. I’ve seen a few in captivity, but not had a chance to photograph one up close and personally in good light with a good background. I had that opportunity in spades on this workshop. Swallow-tailed kites are neotropical migrants (they winter in South America and breed in the southeastern United States). They seem to require large tracts of mature bottomland hardwood forests for nesting. Needless to say, they are not doing well either.
A swallow-tailed kite perches on an oak branch.
In addition to perched shots, because the rehabilitation facility had falconers, we had a chance to photograph several species in flight. We watched an impressive peregrine stoop at a lure. Unfortunately, while 1/1250th of a second was fast enough to freeze the falconer’s motion, it was not sharp enough to freeze a peregrine in mid-stoop. But there were other chances to photograph the peregrine (and a couple of other falcons as well).
A peregrine falcon perches on a falconer’s glove after a successful stoop at a moving lure.
The barn owl in front of the barns was a fun shoot.
A barn owl glides silently across the farm yard.
They also flew a pair of the mischievous Harris hawks at the same time. Choosing a favorite flight shot of a Harris hawk was not an easy task.
A Harris hawk peers carefully as it soars, just waiting on a chance to pounce.
I just barely had room for this whole red-tailed hawk in the image as it decelerated to land on a perch. Note the leather falconry field jesses and radio transmitter hanging in the image. The handlers were great about helping pose the birds in such a way at times that the jesses, leashes, and bands wouldn’t be seen in the resulting images. At other times, the falconry gear was a critical part of the story and images.
A captive red-tailed hawk flares as it prepares to land on a perch.
It was a treat to be able to create an iconic bald eagle image in front of an American flag as well. The hard part was choosing a favorite bald eagle and American flag image!
A bald eagle perched in front of the American flag.
And the queen angelfish photographic opportunities were great as well. As I walked into the local hotel the night before the workshop, I noticed that they had a nicely done saltwater tank that was very clean and had very few reflected highlights on the glass. Since the lobby was deserted around midnight when I checked in, as I returned the luggage cart, I took a camera & lens with me to see if I could get a decent fish shot…
A queen angelfish swims by a coral head.