Great Horned Owl (Photo of the week)

A great horned owl sits on a tree branch at dusk, surveying the area for potential prey.
A great horned owl sits on a tree branch at dusk, surveying the area for potential prey.

This week’s shot was taken near Bishop, CA in an open field with a nearby stream. Although I was out shooting landscapes, I had my 100-400L mounted on a second body and slung over my shoulder. I was glad I thought to bring this “just in case” setup. You never know when you’ll run into wildlife!

Some friends alerted me to the owl’s presence, and as I got closer, I was presented with two problems, both relating to the lighting conditions. First of all, the sun was setting behind the tree in which the owl was perched. This created a strong silhouette of the tree branch with the owl. Sometimes silhouettes can work well with birds, especially if there is a strong graphical element to the shape of the bird. That wasn’t going to work here, because the shape of the owl was a simple oval – nothing interesting there. Moving closer to the tree and beneath it shielded me from the setting sun and allowing my camera meter to expose properly for the scene.

Now I was presented with the second lighting problem – it was getting dark. I had my landscape tripod with me, but I had ditched it as I started stalking closer to the tree. I knew I wouldn’t have had time to set up my lens on the tripod anyway, so I was stuck hand-holding. I checked my camera-recommended shutter speed (I often shoot in aperture priority), and knew that I couldn’t hand-hold at that speed and keep the image sharp. So I did what any modern digital shooter would do – I cranked up the ISO. I knew I could at least have a chance of recovering the photo from excessive noise. There is no salvaging a blurry photo.

After I had fired off a few shots, the owl decided he would rather have a little more solitude and flew off to another perch. It was very serendipitous to have run into this bird – if I had gone out specifically looking for a great horned owl, I’m sure I never would have found one.

  • eabroderick

    Great shot!…apparently their population is declining and owl lovers are glad you ran into this guy so to speak…ann

  • Thanks Ann. There is definitely something magical about owls. I’m happy I “captured” this one.

  • Dcanfield

    Hank, You know I loved that picture! Great Job. I’m still trying to find the time to finish working on my pics. I really enjoyed meeting you in Bishop. I’m planning on going next spring for David’s workshop, hopefully you will too. Dave Champion talked about some of us hooking up at Jerry’s in Sebastipol(sp?) in the future and I’d be up for that. Take care.

  • It was great to meet you too Dan. I’ll definitely consider spring with David. It would be a blast to hook up with a small group and Jerry in the future. Take care – I look forward to seeing your shots….