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Archive for July 10th, 2008

Having all the photo gear in the world won’t get that once-in-a-lifetime photo. It will help, but luck and planning will play a bigger part in whether you succeed or fail in getting “the shot”. Plan well and you’ll be ready when luck happens.

A great example of “planning for luck” happened during a recent vacation. I was staying at a state park adjacent to the Potomac River. Bald eagles were seen nearby. My self-assignment was to get photos of them feeding on the fish in the river.

I needed to come up with a plan.

I knew I’d need a long telephoto lens. I decided to use the loaner Canon 400mm f/4 DO lens I brought along as well as a 1.4X teleconverter. That would give me the equivalent of a 560mm lens on my Canon 5D DSLR. Knowing eagles fly high and far away from people, I hoped that would be enough.

I also needed to find where the eagles were active…and at what time of day. When shooting wildlife, it’s helpful to know their habits (day feeder vs. night feeder, etc.) and, of course, where they hang out. This can be the hardest part of the plan, especially if you don’t know the area. With binoculars in hand, I started watching the eagles. After a couple days, I had a good idea of where they caught fish as well as the location of their nesting area. I also noticed they were more active in the early morning hours.

With all that in mind, I decided to stake out a spot near their nests and wait for luck to happen. In getting ready for action, I set my camera to a high shutter speed (since I wanted to be able to react to birds from all directions, I left my tripod in the car and trusted a high shutter speed and image stabilization to keep things sharp). I chose 1/1250th of a second.

I also set the camera to manual and adjusted the exposure and color balance to match the morning light. I used manual metering because I figured I’d probably be shooting the birds against sky, woods and water and I didn’t want exposure errors caused by shooting against a bright sky or reflected water to ruin my shots. I also set the camera to RAW format to give me more flexibility in post-processing and set the autofocus to servo mode to better follow the birds. Manual focus is so…20th century!

So, with camera in hand, I waited. And waited. The morning light was glorious and there was a lot of activity on the river. I was afraid this activity would keep the eagles away and, as I was preparing to leave to find another location, a young male flew overhead. I tracked him for a couple minutes as he circled the river (he had spotted a fish) and, since I had everything ready, was set for what happened next!

lucky catch

I love it when planning and luck play nice together!

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