I teach classes at Precision Camera and Video in Austin. That partnership has created some fun opportunities for me. Recently, Olympus Camera reached out to put on a bird photography focused event to let photographers try the great OM-D cameras.
All I had to do was come up with birds for our guests to photograph. That is tougher than it sounds… There are not that many people that are legally allowed to keep raptors. They are protected by law. Within that set, only a tiny fraction are allowed to show their raptors to the public in a setting like this. Luckily the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center near Dallas was willing to bring down a few of their birds for us.
Easter Screen Owl
This owl was extremely chill with 20 people clicking away feet from him. I decided to make a little closer photo using an ultra-wide Olympus 7-14mm lens. The owl looks so offended that I was close, but as soon as I backed up he went right back to chilling out.
American Kestrel (Male)
A fairly common bird trait is that if there is a male/female difference in appearance (sexual dimorphism), then the male is the more colorful. Raptors don’t normally exhibit large difference between male and female, but the American Kestrel is an exception. The males are a beautiful combination of gray-blue and rusty red.
I was busy helping folks with photography during most of the kestrel’s time on stage so I didn’t get many pictures of him. Here is a BTS shot though that gives you an idea of how we were lighting the birds. There was a 1000w hot light over my left shoulder too to provide a nice warm edge light.
Mississippi kite’s are, as you might expect, from north-east (i.e. towards Mississippi) of central Texas. However, their range has been extending into north-east Texas recently. The raptor center had a recovered Mississippi kite so I thought it would be a nice “unusual” raptor, at least for Austin folks.
This kite is quite small and has a very different look than the large hawks I’m used to seeing on every fence post around Austin.
Red Tail Hawk
Anyone that has lived in central Texas for more than a few months has seen red tail hawks. This time of year they seem to be sitting on every telephone pole, fence post and dead tree.
Approaching wild red tail hawks is quite difficult. They are usually high up looking for food, and have a fairly large “nope radius”. Even if they are down low, you usually can’t (easily) get to within good photo distance before they flap away.
This workshop brought all of us to within 5 or 10 feet of a beautiful mature bird.
The red tail was the only large raptor we brought down. This “over-the-shoulder” shot illustrates where their name comes from. They might also be called “the bird that makes the sound used for any bird of prey in a movie.” Even if you don’t realize it, you’ve heard the call of red tail hawks over and over in numerous shows and movies.
In the Studio
Originally the workshop was going to be held in a park with natural backdrops. However, the weather was terrible on the workshop day. We switched things up and stayed in the studio. I set up a quick constant light studio and we had a great studio session with the birds. Everyone seemed to have a great time. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity like this.
The birds in this shoot are all rescued birds that can’t be re-released into the wild for one reason or another. The red tail hawk had suffered multiple wing breaks from multiple car strikes, and has trouble flying (and also staying off roads). Some of the other birds were “rescued” by people that had no business posessing them. Because they were raised by untrained folks, they do not have the survival skills required.
The raptor center uses the birds that can’t be released, and that have the right temperament, for educational and outreach events like this one.
It is generally a felony to posses or harm any bird of prey. It is even illegal to possess feathers from them. If you find an injured or orphaned bird, do a quick google and contact your local wildlife rescue organization. They are trained and know how to handle the situation to give the animal the maximum chance of survival and re-release into the wild.