How I Took This Shot...

How did you take that shot?

This is a question I often get asked, so I thought I would start a regular slot on my blog where I will explain how I went about obtaining a particular image, what the camera settings I used were, details on any specialist equipment needed and finally how long it actually took to pull the image off.

So let's kick start this series off with this image of a Tawny Owl landing on an old rustic post at night. I'll start off by saying that this image didn't happen over night. It was carefully planned and actually took several weeks of monitoring the behaviour of the owls in the wild, noting what time they came on the wing and were most active before even attempting the image.

 Flash photography

Of course being a nocturnal owl species, capturing an image like this does require the use of " responsible " flash photography. There are many people that consider the use of any flash to capture any image of a wild animal as some thing you should never do, and of course they do have a valid point. The welfare of the subject should always come before a photo and that's some thing I very strongly agree with. My own view is that if used responsibly and correctly, then flash can be a very useful tool whether it be for night or daytime photography.

My own personal approach is to use as little flash as possible, and when I say as little flash I mean as low power as I can get away with. During night owl photography, I never use a flash power higher than 1/8th, but preferably lower. This has two benefits,

1, it has little or no effect on the subject.

2, with such a low flash duration, freezing movement is relatively simple as the flash duration becomes your effective shutter speed.

Triggering the camera

When it comes to capturing an image like this, it's all down to planning and timing. You need to have a vision of what the final image should look like in order to plan it. Having captured several images of this particular owl just sitting on the post, I knew my ultimate goal was to capture that moment it landed on the post as these shots are very dynamic and more appealing. So how can you trigger the camera at that right moment? Well it really comes down to two choices.

1. You sit, wait and watch and try and manually fire the shutter at the right moment. 

2. You apply technology and use sensors to fire the shutter at the right moment. 

There are various products on the market which can be used to detect heat or motion and all vary in cost based on their functionality. These generally fall into two categories - PIR ( Passive infrared ) or lasers. After much consideration I decided to use lasers as these allowed me to precisely select a position above the post when I wanted to fire the camera as I knew I wanted that moment the owl was just landing.

The brand I purchased was the Cactus LV5 Laser Trigger System. These were relatively good price at approximately £100 compared to other products, but as with most things - do have their good and bad points.

The Bad:
Camera receiver additional £50
No camera cables included
Can be tricky to align lasers

The Good:
Precise positioning for camera triggering
Can be used of other types of photography.

The main image in this blog was captured by aligning the laser across the back edge of the post so when the owl came into land, the camera was triggered at the right moment. Aligning the lasers was a little tricky to start with, but it gets easier with practise and you tend to work out your own method. Once aligned they worked flawlessly. These just trigger the camera, so you are still relying on an additional triggering method to fire the flashes. For this I use the Yongnuo YN 622C series which work brilliantly.

If I was to rate this product, I would give it 4 out of 5. For the money, it's an excellent product which has other uses. There are of course other products out there but if you're on a budget then these work a treat.

Here is a product link for Amazon.

Camera Settings

Finally, I'll close this blog with my go to camera settings for these type of images. These are:

1/160 sec shutter speed
F11 - 16
ISO 800
Flash: White Balance
Flash Power: 1/16th - 1/8th
2 remote off camera speed lights ( 2- 3 meters from subject )

For most my images, I'm either using the 1DX Mark II, 5D Mark iii or 7D Mark II, either one a 600mm lens or 24-70mm if I decide to go to more of a wide angle approach.

I hope you find this small article useful, and next time, I hope you continue to see some amazing wildlife and capture the images you want.

If you'd like any more detailed information then please feel free to Contact Me.