Hawk With An Attitude

Hawk with an Attitude – Exposure Compensation

Hawks know they are cool.  So cool, they will occasionally cop an FU attitude. 

This Red Tailed Hawk was hanging out in a tree right above my deck.  I came out for coffee in the morning and here was this guy sitting above me looking a bit bored and maybe annoyed I intruded into his morning.  I grabbed my equipment, planted my tripod and snapped a few.  He was very close but above me and this steep angle is just is not great for a hawk portrait.

So what does this pompous ass of a hawk do as I snap pictures?  In an apparent act of teenage rebellion, he… well… he turns and shows me his pompous ass.  Then he launches… um…. let’s just say you can see his projected attitude in the picture if you look hard enough.

Tricky Exposure – Use Exposure Compensation

First, I always start out using my standard settings so I know what my camera is ready to do and I modify the settings from there as needed.  Very little setup is required if I have to shoot quickly.  Notice the sky is very light and bright.  This throws off your camera’s metering system and the camera thinks the picture is brighter than it really is.  It then speeds up your shutter to darken the photo.  The problem is that your subject is naturally way darker than is the sky and when the camera darkens the photo, your subject gets blacked out.  This is a very common photography problem.

I wrecked so many of these kinds of photos that I forced myself to recognize the issue and how to compensate for it.  The answer is quite simple:  bump your exposure compensation to +1.  This will tell your camera to expose 1 stop longer than it thinks it should thus making your picture lighter than your camera wants.  Since it wanted to do the wrong thing given the large, bright sky, exposing +1 will yield a better exposure on your subject.

Now look at the picture you just took, and if your subject is still too dark, then bump exposure compensation to +1.5 or so and try again.  If your subject looks too bright and washed out, then drop your exposure compensation to +.5 and try again.  Just try to get the exposure correct on your subject and not the background.

The downside to using exposure compensation is that the sky here is so bright, that setting at +1 overexposes it and washes out the blue in the sky.  Oh well, you can’t have everything as camera technology is not as good as your eyes – yet.  What is more important to you, the sky or the hawk?  That is why we expose for the subject and not let the camera take charge.

Click here for more on exposure compensation.

The Equipment:

  • Canon 5D Mk II
  • Canon 500mm L f/4.0 IS
  • Canon EF 1.4x II extender (teleconverter)
  • Gitzo 3530LS carbon fiber tripod
  • Wimberley II gimbal head

Location Types: Backyard. Galleries: Birds and Hawk. Tags: 500mm, 5D Mk II, Extension Tube, and Gitzo Wimberly.

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