Eagle landing in a snow storm, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @340mm, 1/1250 s at f8 ISO 640, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
2013 Eagle Tour Report Part 2
Every year we hope for at least a couple of days of snow during a tour because for eagle photography a day with snow is about as good as it gets. After a healthy snow storm overnight we had some good accumulation for the shoot the next morning. As soon as we reached our photography site, you wouldn’t believe how amazing it looked, every tree limb and log was covered in snow and the soft light was amazing. Once I found an interesting snow covered perch to stake out, all the group had to do was wait for an eagle to land and fire away. For this kind of image the eagle should face the camera with talons out, wings up and falling snow really adds a nice touch as in the image above.
Each week this year had at least one or two days of snow with a couple of days with decent snow accumulation. Last year we had too days of heavy snow but this also gave us a few feet of snow on the ground to work with.
95mm bank, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @95mm, 1/2000 s at f8 ISO 800, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
This uncropped bank image was made with a zoom at 95mm on a full frame camera, but there is more to the story than the super short focal length. Right after I made this image while looking through the viewfinder I felt something slam into the right side of my head. I have been making annual trips to this location to lead photography groups since 2005 and I have never experienced anything like this before! As I pulled back a little dazed I could see a brown blur out of my left eye in my peripheral vision right before the eagle smacked into our boat! Thankfully the eagle wasn’t even slightly slowed down and seemed to be in a-okay shape even after hitting our boat. That was definitely a first for me and I thought I had seen everything.
Eagle bar landing, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @300mm, 1/3200 s at f8 ISO 400, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
With literally dozens and dozens of eagles to choose from you need to concentrate on something specific to get results. I like to concentrate on certain behavior and when presented with a choice I always target certain individual eagles. I target individuals with clean while plumage and good undamaged feathers on my target birds when I have a choice. After some patience and a little luck everything will pay off.
The eagles are used to handouts from fisherman in the form of by catch or throw aways. When our craft turns up at the photography locations the eagles will sometimes turn up and land close by to check out the action. Sometimes we have a dozen or more, sometimes in a few minutes. This has not changed at all over the years, we still have superb numbers of eagles, sometimes we can even have too many targets at one time.
The bald eagle bar, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @50mm, 1/1250 s at f8 ISO 1250, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
As soon as one eagle lands others will almost always follow as they instinctively gather in groups this time of the year. There is not much to add to an image like this, eagles of all ages in great soft light, wind at your back with gorgeous mountains in the background. Sometimes I have to stop and think about how lucky I am to be able to do this each year with good friends and colleagues. This moment was so nice it was easy to forget the temps are in the 20s without the windchill factor.
Barye and a new friend, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @120mm, 1/60 s at f16 ISO 800, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
As a rule the younger sub adult eagles are almost fearless of humans. Sometimes even a 300f2.8 can be too much lens in situations like this. Here a zoom lens has a huge advantage over a fast fixed focal length lens. Not only in terms of focal length but in minimum focus distance. In the case of Nikon a 300f2.8 can focus to seven and a half feet, a Sigma 50-500 can focus down to 2 feet.
A huge thanks to all of this year’s tour participants. The great weather, incredible opportunities and the amazing experiences with friends and colleagues are what I will remember about this year’s tours. If you were not able to join us this year, you should join us for 2014. The areas we photograph on this tour every year are the very best in Alaska and have proven to be very reliable year after year. I have been all over Alaska photographing eagles and I have never been able to find a place that can rival our locations.
Even after all my time photographing eagles this year I am already looking to get back up there next year. With special permits we have access to private areas that other groups cannot visit legally and our special landing craft boats make easy landings really easy and very safe. I always keep my group sizes limited to 5 photographers so everyone has plenty of space and one on one help when needed. So if you have ever dreamed of photographing bald eagles in Alaska think about joining me next year for the trip of a lifetime. You wont regret it, this year I had at least 5 returning participants, for two people 2013 year was their third year in a row.
2014 tour dates will be March 14-18, March 20-24, and March 26-30. Tour fee is $3900 and the deposit is $1950. I can offer previous tour participants a $200 discount. Please let me know right away if you have any questions or would like register for next year. Sign up as soon as you can. This tour always sells out each and every year.
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