Barred Owl, Bloody Beak, Dead Vole

My National Geographic Moment (well sort of)

Can you believe this?!  I came across this Barred Owl tearing into a vole!!!  Whoa! Maximum cool.   I was so excited to have this opportunity, I botched the picture taking.  But that is OK because this is one time where technical goodness is completely trumped by subject matter cool. 

Dig that bloody beak, those little itsy bitsy feet and tail hanging out, I love it!  The little guy probably just ran out for pizza or something and POW!  He is the dinner.

Wanna do something really neat with these pics?  Run them backwards and watch the vole barf out.  Yea, every man is still an 11 year old inside.

What I Did Wrong

I had my brilliant Canon 70-200 2.8 L IS on my 5D Mk II and my Canon EF 1.4x II extender (telelconverter) between them with everything set wrong.  I let my excitement turn off my brain.  This excitement = turn off brain phenomenon was a pretty common occurrence for me when I was young and in college.  It was usually most potent in the spring when the coats came off but this should not happen to me now in my later years and particularly when I am trundling around the New Jersey Pine Barons in an SUV starring into trees. 

So I did two things wrong: 1) wrong ISO and 2) zoom was too wide.  The wide zoom had the secondary effect of underexposing the picture because now I had so much more bright sky in the frame; the camera thought I had a bright scene.  Throw in a brown owl that is unnecessarily small in the frame and you have an underexposed owl.  See the last picture for what really came out of my camera.

The sun was setting, I was losing the light and what light I had was filtering through the trees.  So I should have bumped up my ISO from 200 to 400 or maybe even 800 (I think picture quality really suffers over ISO 400).  This would have given me extra sharpness as the camera calculated the shutter to be 1/160 which is pretty slow and risky when zooming.  While the pictures are Ok sharp, if I had the correct exposure from zooming in, the shutter would have been way slower.

Then, dumber than dumb, I didn’t zoom my lens!  Can you believe how stupid this was?  With the teleconverter, I have 280mm maximum zoom and I shot most of these at 140mm and then had to heavily crop to bring in the owl.  Cropping, particularly on a poorly exposed picture, is asking for trouble and these pics have heavy trouble all over them.  These pics here are at 100% and given that the owl was underexposed, I had to really work on them in LightRoom to get them acceptable.

Actually, I re-worked them about three different times.  The first was with Canon’s DPP software, then LightRoom 3, and now LightRoom 4.  LightRoom 4 definitely is a superior product and the pictures are better for it.  Again, look at the last picture to see the mess that came out of my camera with no processing.

The Lesson Learned

Don’t be surprised.  Anticipate your shots and set up the camera before you need to shoot.  If you are losing the light, then adjust the darn thing.  Don’t wait for a subject to present itself to assess how to set up your camera.

The Equipment:

  • Canon 5D Mk II
  • Canon 70-200mm 2.8 L IS
  • Canon EF 1.4x II extender (telelconverter)
  • Excitable boy

Location Types: Nature Reserve. Galleries: Birds and Owl. Tags: 5D Mk II, 70-200mm 2.8, and teleconverter.

2 Responses to “Barred Owl, Bloody Beak, Dead Vole”

  1. Bob Hilscher November 28, 2012 4:21 pm #

    Well Bruce, That is simply amazing! The light, angle, and the moment all connected for you, and you captured it. Well done. I live in Toronto, Canada, and this past weekend, my wife, Jean, and I also came upon a Barred Owl out in the forest. Our Owl however was not having lunch. If your interested our pictures and video are at:

  2. The Intrepid Amateur November 28, 2012 8:04 pm #

    Hi Bob, I checked out your website and those are excellent photos and story of a really cool animal. I noticed that all birds of prey have an attitude…. an “I am too cool” attitude and they have a right to be that way! They need sunglasses. By the way, thanx for the compliments but honestly, Adobe LightRoom is my close friend.

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