Snow Owls of Canada, Part 1 (or: getting serious with the Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL)

I had the pleasure of visiting Alberta, Canada recently. Canada is a wildlife photographer’s walhalla (second to Galapagos probably…) and most who visit will travel to the Canadian Rockies to view one of the most amazing mountain ranges in the world, and the abundant wildlife that goes with it.

To the east of the Canadian Rockies are Alberta’s prairies and farm land. Here is where migrated Snow Owls from the arctic (where they breed) spend their winter time feeding (amongst others) on lemmings and mice. Male Snow Owls are almost completely white, relatively small and quite shy; the females have more flecks, are bigger and more inquisitive.

Snow Owl1-part1

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 800, +2.0 exp. corr.

On this trip I had the opportunity (or rather very difficult challenge) to practice with my Nikon D4S and both 600mm FL super-telephoto lens and 200-500mm f/5.6 super-telephoto zoom, a photographic concept/technique known as ‘birds in flight’ (BIF). I’m actually not a huge (generic) birding fan; however raptors are an exception: their two forward-facing eyes and expression make them somewhat easier and more exciting to ‘associate’ with, in a way.

Snow Owl2-2-part1Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL + TC-14E III @ 850mm on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 800, +1.0 exp. corr.

Chapters and probably whole books must have been written on how to shoot Birds-in-Flight, and photography forums are rich in advice – and even more in opinions. I must have tried pretty much every possible option on my D4S in terms of autofocus tracking, but the one combo that finally worked for me was the continuous autofocus in 3D-tracking mode, in combination with two other autofocus setting. In fact, I had never used those other settings before and was always under the impression they were quite useless. Well, now I know why those settings exist: to capture tack-sharp images of birds in flight, flying straight towards you which must be the trickiest situation for any autofocus systems to manage.


Snow Owl3-4-part1

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 1250, +1.0 exp. corr.

While I only managed to capture my best shots at the final day of my 4-day trip (using 3D-tracking mode), I did manage to identify about 70 really good keepers out of over 5000 shots, which is a new high score for me :). No worries, I won’t post all 70 but I will probably make a further selection and post more images over the next few weeks in 2-3 articles.

Snow Owl4-part1

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/3200 s., ISO 1800, +1.0 exp. corr.

Please note that these images are protected by copyright and are not allowed to be used in any commercial way. If you’re interested in personal use only (like using as personal desktop background) then that’s fine; however any other use is prohibited by law.

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