Robert OToole Photography
  • Bald Eagle
  • Apr2

    1 Comment

    Epic 12 Days of Eagle Photography

    Over the last 9 years of leading eagle tours in Alaska the photo opportunities have been getting better and better but this year the opportunities were unprecedented.  In the first week my first tour group were really lucky to see all kinds of weather conditions over five days from snow flurries to a blizzard and finally sunny conditions but the she second and third groups were able to enjoy something I have never seen before in all of time leading tours, 12 days of sun with light to non existent winds. The winds were what bird photographer dreams are made of, SE wind in the morning and SW wind in the afternoon, which are ideal. We had superb action in gorgeous light with perfect winds for 12 straight days, unbelievable!

    Example
    Eagle mid strike in late afternoon light. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 290mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld.

    The location for the image above is easily one of my favorites in Alaska. This is a protected tidal pool with distant spruce trees and snow covered mountain tops in the background and offshore winds in the afternoon.

    For most of the time this year light levels were high enough to allow ISO levels in the hundreds (not in the thousands) with plenty of shutter speed.

    Example
    Bank landing on the beach in warm early morning light. Sigma 50-500mm OS HSM  @ 340mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/8.0, ISO 640, handheld.

    As a display of aggression some eagles when landing near a group of others with bank hard and call when landing. I try to listen for and single out these individuals whenever I hear  and eagle calling.

    Example
    Full spread landing. Sigma 50-500mm OS HSM @ 340mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/8.0, ISO 640, handheld.

    Eagles usually prefer to land on something above ground level like this driftwood log on the beach for example so preparation and patience always pay off with images like this.

    One of the best things about my eagle tour, something most people can’t believe, is that you don’t need 500-600 or 800mm lens. My favorite images made on the tour this year were from 90mm to about 350mm on a full frame camera. My favorite lens this year by far was the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S. For lots of people, me included, a 300 prime lens can be great birds in flight lens but for shooting conditions on this trip a 300mm prime can definitely be too much so a 120-300 f/2.8 zoom or 70-200 with a 1.4X are just about ideal.

    Example

    Inverted bank before diving in perfect late afternoon light. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 300mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/4000th s at f/4.0, ISO 400, handheld.

    Eagles really seem to enjoy radical maneuvers in flight, like this upside down flip right before a dive.

    One afternoon my group was treated to an air-show when a sub-adult eagle blasted barrel roll after barrel roll miles above the tree line. It left everyone speechless.

    Example
    Eagle hovering with talons out in late afternoon light. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 170mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/4000th s at f/4, ISO 320, handheld.

    With stiff offshore winds, perfect late afternoon light and 50 eagles in the air your available memory card space seems to evaporate into the cold air.

    A stiff breeze will keep eagles up in the air hovering then when they want to dive they stick out their talons, flare their wings and tail out slamming on the air-brakes before they pitch forward into a dive. This is the split second of maximum stall right before the dive. This is something I will never get tired of seeing in the viewfinder!

    Example
    Eagle roost. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 300mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/4000th s at f/4.0, ISO 400, handheld.

    Soft light and lots of eagle roosting, this is exactly what you want to see when you arrive at a photography location first thing in the morning.

    2015 dates have been confirmed so if you would like to join me next year contact me as soon as possible to avoid being disappointed since the 2013 and 2014 tours were sold-out. For more info:

    http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/bald-eagles/

    Eagle Photo Tour Series 2015
    Mar 14th –  18th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950.  5 photographers maximum.
    Mar 20th- 24th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.
    Mar 26th – Mar 30,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.
    Tour leader: Robert OToole

    March 14th – 18th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950.  5 photographers maximum.

    March 20th – 24th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.

    March 26th – Mar 30,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.

    Tour leader: Robert OToole

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2015 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Mar19

    2 Comments

    Part One – Sunny with a Chance of a Blizzard

    Over this past week my first tour group and I have been super lucky to see everything Alaska has to offer in terms of photographic possibilities and some of the most challenging shooting conditions I have seen up here. Over 5 days we have seen everything from a full blizzard to perfect sunny conditions and almost everything in between. For only the second time since 2005 I had to cancel a shoot in Alaska due to a blizzard that slammed into the area with 45 mph winds, 10 foot waves and snow and ice coming down sideways just as we were gearing up to leave for a shooting session.

    Example
    Eagle inverted right before a dive, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 340mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/1600th s at f/8, ISO 400, Manual mode, handheld.

    Eagles seem to enjoy aerial acrobatic flying. They will often throw themselves into an upside down position at the top of a climb, as you can see above, to redirect straight down into a steep dive. Sometimes if you are lucky to be close enough you can hear the wind rush off their wings in a low roar as they shoot by. Sometimes you can actually feel this rush of wind if are right below them.

    Over the next few days after the blizzard we had great opportunities with clouds, snow, wind and even beautiful sunny conditions on the last day of the tour. On the last shooting session of the tour the participants had enough of shooting and literally called it quits completely worn out by all the continuous action over the last couple of days. The group all had huge smiles on their tired faces as we headed back on the last session of the tour.

    Example
    Eagle wing up threat pose, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 500mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/500th s at f/8, ISO 500, Manual mode, handheld.

    When an individual eagle lands near a group they sometimes land with wings straight up, beating only the tops or tips of their wings while calling. This threat pose is always great to see but can be very hard to catch unless you are looking out specifically for this pose. After years and years photographing eagles I have only been able to capture this behavior a half a dozen times or so I was really happy to see this opportunity for my group.

    Example
    Eagle inverted, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 210mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/40th s at f/8, ISO 100, Manual mode, handheld.

    Low light levels and deep dark backgrounds makes for great opportunities for speed blurs. The low light makes it possible to use low ISO levels and the dark background in the image above makes details in the eagle really stand out. 1/40th of a second gives you just enough blur to show the speed of the subject.

    Example
    Eagle inverted, Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 OS HSM @ 270mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/5.6, ISO 640, Manual mode, handheld.

    Even though I have shot this for what seems like the millionth time, I still love the fully extended wings forward eagle bank. For this session the cloudy sky gave us super soft light and nice soft backgrounds.

    More images and details coming soon in the second part of this report including 2015 tour dates!

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Jun24

    11 Comments

    Example

    Bloomberg Businessweek Cover

    Bloomberg Businessweek magazine editors chose to run one of my eagle images on the cover of this weeks issue. This magazine has close to 1,000,000 copy circulation so although not my first cover it is my biggest circulation cover so far.

    The image was made with a Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX HSM APO lens at 500mm with my NIKON D700 in manual mode, 1/1600 s F/8, ISO 1000.

    Its interesting to see the image selection process by the editors in the cover trail breakdown on the table of contents page of the magazine. Personally I prefer the dark on white or dark on blue versions that did not make the final cut. Check it out if you see it on the newsstand.

    PMA@CES, reflecting its rescheduling to coincide with International CES, a major annual consumer electronics trade show also held in Las Vegas.
    The PMA International Convention and Trade Show is frequently the occasion for the public introduction of important imaging product

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Apr3

    2 Comments

    Example
    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.

    Example
    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.

    Example
    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.

    Example
    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.

    Example
    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.

    Thanks

    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.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

    March 14-18
    March 20-24
    March 26-30

  • Apr2

    3 Comments

    Example
    Eagle in golden light, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @240mm, 1/1600 s at f8 ISO 800, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    Eagle Tour Report Part One

    Last year’s tour series was so unbelievably good I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and a little luck to match the opportunities this year. Looking back now I think that overall the opportunities this year even surpassed last year, it was truly awesome tour series. Trying to share my experiences and images from 23 days of shooting into a few paragraphs is a bit challenging so I will have to split this report into a few parts so I can share as much as possible.

    Over the course of the tour series each week had distinct weather patterns and photography opportunities. Some people decided to maximize their opportunities and joined two tours back to back. The first group had lots of rain and some snow the first week. The next tour had lots of variable weather, we had clouds, rain, snow, wind, fog, then sunshine all in the a single day. The last group had mostly sunny days with only a day or 2 with rain or snow. Sunny days sound great and they can be but in Alaska north winds mean clear skies but really challenging photographic opportunities but thankfully the weather changes almost constantly. In terms of weather this year overall we couldn’t ask for anything more.

    This first image was made at one of my favorite and most reliable spots we visit during my tours. On sunny late afternoons the sunlight hits a wall reflecting on the smooth water below bathing everything in golden light. Thankfully the eagles at this spot called the wall, are as reliable as the lighting. In a split second everything can come together and an eagle will swoop down directly at our boat and strike the water a few feet away and fly right at us in the reflected golden light. The biggest problem in this situation is the sheer number of eagles make it difficult to concentrate on any one type of action. To give you an idea of the distance, this lightly cropped image was made at 240mm on a full frame camera.

    Example
    Eagles in afternoon light and mountains, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @170mm, 1/800 s at f8 ISO 640, handheld, manual metering. Alaska, Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    On a dropping tide newly uncovered gravelbars are really attractive to the eagles as they like to gather in group. In this image there are 23 eagles, not a large group for this location by the way. Moments like these are why I always recommend having access to a zoom lens on this tour. Sometimes the images in the viewfinder seem almost unreal. Thankfully this time it wasn’t just a dream.
    Example
    Juvenile eagles trying to keep dry, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @340mm, 1/2000 s at f8 ISO 800, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    A 21 foot hight tide peak coinciding with the best light of the day means awesome opportunities. For this image we staked out an empty perch on a gravelbar as the tide came up.  Then as the tide peaked eagles started looking for a dry place to perch. For a couple of minutes there were great opportunities, like the image above, then a moment after this image there were 8 eagles crowded on the perch. To some this image looks to good to be true but it is 100% real. The juvenile bald eagles above have different plumage variations according to their ages.

    This year we had an unusually high number of sub adult and juvenile eagles, some years there are almost no young birds. I really like the younger sub adult’s plumage like the ones in the image above although sometimes they have very worn plumage so you have to be careful which birds you target.

    Example
    Eagles locked and spiraling, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @500mm, 1/2000 s at f8 ISO 400, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    This behavior is always interesting and will never get old since it is not very common and when it does happen its usually off in the distance but sometimes it will happen close enough to shoot. Eagle talon locked spirals usually occur in fights over food. Sometimes the participants will spiral right into water or into a stand of trees. I have never seen any eagles hurt doing the this as the spiraling seems to slow the fall to a safe speed.

    Example
    Low tide sunset, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @78mm, 1/400 s at f8 ISO 320, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    On the way to a shoot I saw these clouds in the distance before any color started to show and immediately I rushed to this area with the low tide mud flats. We pulled off the road just as the colors started to intensify so we had time to experiment with framing. I shot a few panos but I like this single straight image the most. We were lucky to still have some snow and ice from the night before the tide washed it away. interestingly my 50-500, already on my camera when I picked it up, worked really well for this image and the tighter panos. This has to have been one of the best sunrise scenes I have photographed in Alaska.

    The second part of this report including 2014 tour info will be posted tomorrow. Let me know if you have any questions or leave a comment below, thanks.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Mar19

    No Comments

    Example
    Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    Alaska Eagle Tour Series Update

    The first ten days of my eagle tour series are now history and with just one week to go Alaska has delivered again. The eagles are out in force and things have been interesting up here to put it mildly. Nature has delivered everything we have come to reply on, changing weather, sometimes in a single day, tons of eagle photography opportunities and much more.

    Wish I could share more right now but I need to prepare for a shoot this afternoon so lots of images coming soon and a full wrap up report including 2014 tour dates and prices.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Mar5

    7 Comments

    Example
    First eagle bank of 2013, Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Nikon D4 and Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM 1/1250s, f/8 ISO 1000, Manual mode with +1 compensation, handheld. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    My first day back in Alaska began with scouting for photography locations and set-ups with my co-leader Alan Murphy, and my guests Clemens Van der Werf and Jon Saperia. Once the job was done we enjoyed a couple hours of seriously good eagle photography out on the bay. Judging by what I saw today this year seems to shaping up to a very productive year with some really large numbers of eagles and mild conditions.

    Considering this was my very first eagle photo session of 2013 I can only hope there will be lots more days coming up just like today, great weather, perfect conditions and shooting with friends and colleagues.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Feb6

    No Comments

    A single opening has just been made available for my March Eagle tour series

    Example
    Eagle call. Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Nikon D700 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f4 G VR ED 1/1250 sec, f/4.0 ISO 250, Manual mode with +.7 compensation, Jobu Jr-3 head and tripod. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    After being sold out for some time a opening has been made due to last minute cancellation. A $200 late registration discount is being offered. Phone or email right away if you can join the tour.

    Example

    Eagle tour photographer at work. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
    The tour dates perfect for tons of eagles, lots of action and almost unlimited opportunities. All the images in this post are from past tours, most from March 2012 like the image above.

    Example

    Eagle head on attack. Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Nikon D700 with Sigma 50-500mm APO OS HSM @ 350mm 1/1600 sec, f/8.0 ISO 400, Manual mode, handheld. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    The opportunities available on my eagle tour series are like no where else on the planet.

    Example

    Eagles, mountains and photographer working with wide angle lens on an Eagle Tour. Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    2013 will be my 7th straight year leading eagle tours at our location so my team and I know how to put our tour participants in the best possible situations to allow them to make the best eagle images of their lives. Call or email right away if you would like to join us of if you have any questions.

    For more info: http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/bald-eagles/

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole. All rights reserved.

  • Jan22

    2 Comments

    The Perfect Day March 24th, 2012

    Example

    Eagle on the prowl. Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Nikon D700 with Sigma 50-500mm APO OS HSM 1/1600 sec, f/8.0 ISO 1250, Manual mode with Auto ISO with +1 2/3 compensation, handheld. image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography

    Being able to travel and experience nature while making a living is something I appreciate each and every day. Sometimes the conditions on site are really challenging with blizzards, volcanic eruptions (I have been thorough two so far), tsunami warnings(I have been though two tsunami warning periods) but every so often the conditions come together and it is just perfect. March 24, 2012 was one of those days, huge snow drifts on land, soft light, light winds, smooth glassy sea surface, good friends, and tons of eagles. It doesnt get any better than that.

    Example

    Eagle Strike. Perfect wind, light, tide, surface conditions and tide. Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II + Nikon TC-14E II1.4x TC, 1/1600 sec, f/4.0 ISO 500 in Manual mode with Auto ISO with +.7 compensation, handheld.

    Important note: Soon I will be back in Alaska leading my bald eagle workshop series in March and there are two openings due to cancellation.  If you would like to join us or for more info email me as soon as possible. Link for more info: http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/bald-eagles/

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2013 Robert OToole. All rights reserved.

  • Apr7

    8 Comments

    Example

    Bald Eagle close up portrait, Kachemak Bay Alaska.Nikon D4 with Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX OS APO HSM + Sigma 1.4X, 1/500 sec, f/8.0 ISO 400 in Manual mode, handheld.

    Be sure to click on the image for the larger version and hit the expand button in the top right corner once the larger image window opens for an even larger view. The image above is a crop made in Photoshop CS5 at 60% magnification to show the level of detail the 120-300 is capable of. Image was converted in ACR 6.7 with light NR and 50-.8-1-0 sharpness settings, then after curves was applied it was cropped and PS CS5.

    I am in the process of creating a review and field note post for my blog and the Sigma blog but I wanted to share one of the images. During my last eagle tour series in Alaska I was able to spent time in the field with the lens alone, with 1.4x and with a 2x and I was pleasantly surprised at the sharpness and speed of this lens. Of course this lens is not perfect (which lens is anyway?) but I will cover all the positives and negatives in my upcoming reviews.

    What do you think of the above? Not bad at all for a large aperture telephoto Sigma zoom lens that retails for just over $3000!

    Spaces are available for my November tour so contact me now if you would like to join me don’t hesitate, you won’t be disappointed. More info: http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/bald-eagles/

    2013 tour details should be available in a few days. If you are interested email me to be place on an interest list.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2012 Robert OToole. All rights reserved.