Guest post: birds of prey in a studio environment with the Nikon D800

Eurasian Eagle Owl

I have scheduled several guest posts for this week. Nikon related news/rumors will pick up at the end of July when we will start approaching the pre-Photokina announcement time. The first guest post is from Steven Hyatt who had the chance to photofraph birds of prey in a studio environment with the Nikon D800 and Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 VRII lens (click on images for larger view):

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Recently I was given the opportunity to set up a studio at the Center For Birds of Prey in Awendaw, SC and photograph their birds. Having loved birds of prey since I was a child (especially owls) I was very excited about having them less than 10 feet from my lens. The only drawback was that I had never shot anything of that nature before and was unsure of exactly how to go about it. I had about a week to figure it out.

Eastern Screech Owl

One thing that I knew was that I wanted as much resolution as possible to capture the fine details present in the feathers, and this provided the perfect opportunity for me to use my Nikon D800 for the first time.

While it’s generally unwise to use a camera for the first time while on an actual shoot I didn’t have much time to prepare and decided to have a little faith in the company whose cameras I’ve been shooting for so many years. When it comes down to image quality the camera certainly did not disappoint. The tones and resolution from the D800 were truly impressive. I couldn’t believe the detail I was able to get from it. However, I had a terrible time with the camera’s autofocus. Birds move so quickly and frequently that focus was a concern for me. I found that I simply could not trust any AF point other than the center point. I tested a calibrated lens on a stationary object in the studio and the focus would be spot on when using the center point, but then would need further fine tuning of about +5 if I moved even two points to the left of center. After repeating these same results with a few lenses I decided to stick with the center point focus only and shoot in continuous AF to keep up with the nearly constant small movements of the birds. It worked well with very few images ever out of focus. As to exposure, I shot at ISO 100 with my aperture mostly at f/11.

Barn Owl Chick

Once I decided to use the D800 I had to make a decision on a lens, and it was a decision with which I had some difficulty. I needed to have a relatively close working distance while at the same time having a high magnification so that I could crop in to photograph just a bird’s head. My Nikon 70-200mm lens just did not have the magnification I needed. I could focus down to just under 5 feet with it, but I couldn’t crop nearly as close as I wanted; 200mm on it still left me with way too much bird and background for the composition I was seeking (as a side note, I tested my girlfriend’s Canon 70-200 and I believe I could have used it just fine). I could use my Nikon 105mm micro and get as close as I wanted, but the problem for me there was twofold. One, I couldn’t get that close to some of the birds (the tawny eagle was unsure of me), and two, my depth of field was just entirely too small at such a short focal distance. I had to shoot at such a small aperture that diffraction was becoming a limiting factor. I could go with a fixed 300mm or 400mm lens but then there’d be no versatility and some wouldn’t let me get as close as I wanted and still focus. After considering the things I wanted in a lens for this shoot, high magnification, a relatively close minimum focusing distance, versatility, and good sharpness, I decided on the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens. Stopped down the sharpness was fantastic, it let me focus even closer than I needed to, and I had the versatility of zooming in and out as needed to incorporate the amount of the bird I considered most appropriate. I will say, however, that this lens is BIG, but it did a fantastic job (I shot it on a Wimberley II head in the studio).  I rented the Nikon 200-400mm lens from (who offer outstanding customer service).

The light setup

On to lighting. Birds are quick, even if moving their head from one position to another (which they do frequently). I wanted a short flash duration to be sure to stop those movements, but also to be able to do the few flying shots I did. I decided on Paul C. Buff Einstein lights. The Einsteins are built for speed, among other things, and were perfect for the job. They are affordable and very versatile. I was shooting them between 1/8 and 1/16 power, which was enough to freeze these birds mid-flight. I had one Einstein camera left with a large 86″ PLM with a diffusion cover on it. Camera right I had 2 more Einsteins with umbrellas on them. All of the lights were within 5 feet of the birds. I had a simple black paper background about 10 feet behind the birds. For the flying shots we set up 2 perches, one just at the background, the other between the lights, and would have the birds glide between the two (with beef or chicken awaiting their arrival).

Harris Hawk

Finally, the RAW conversion and bulk of the editing was done in Phase One’s Capture One software. This is the first time I have ever used the program but anyone familiar with Adobe Lighroom, and even those not, should be able to pick up on it very quickly. My main reason for this choice was strictly image quality. I’ve heard repeatedly that Capture One is the best RAW converter out there and after this experience I see no reason to refute that claim.

Ural Owl

I will be returning to the center in a few months to photograph more as they rotate their flight birds (bald eagle, spectacled owl, asian brown wood owl, etc!). In the meantime please enjoy the resulting photos from the day and I hope this information will be of use to you in the future.

Savigny's Owl

Eurasian Kestrel

Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture

Peregrine Falcon

Red Tailed Hawk

Tawny Eagle

Yellow Billed Kite

I uploaded two full size images on flickr: Harris Hawk and Ural Owl.

All images © Steven Hyatt

This entry was posted in Nikon D800, Other Nikon stuff and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • ShaoLynx

    Everything is very nice about this post: nice setup, nice gear, nice set of ‘models’.
    And of course: nice results. Kudos!

    • Ben

      Great photos. I really liked the detail in the close up of the birds.

      • Agree!
        This is a beautiful series.

        • poor birds

          • Haha! Funny. Ever take a picture of a model for your own use and pay them? Those birds are eating like Kings compared to their wild brethren. Not to mention most of the birds at this place are rescued for some reason such as medical issues, etc. You should visit this website:

  • Hmm. I am kind of disappointed in the results. Besides the first and last two, composition seems quite off. Lighting, focus, etc is all great, but composition is really off. Cutting off most of the bird is just a shame. And it loses a lot of well-received detail. There’s just too much negative space. With the D800, there’s absolutely no excuse for this. If you were scared of cutting most of the bird off (which happened alot here), you could have shot and gotten TOO MUCH space in, then cropped as necessary. At least then you wouldn’t have cut anything off accidentally. A great opportunity, and well, good results.


    • fjfjjj

      I thought the same thing about the composition, and then I read about the D800 autofocus problems. I think all these compositions are the result of putting the owl’s face under the center autofocus point.

      • Andrew

        The firmware update fixed that problem, but not the ones that involve shaking hands.

        • Kissinger

          Problems involving shaking hands with the birds?
          Just kiss them!

        • Mike

          When your flash duration is 1/10,000 of a second, shaky hands have ZERO affect on the picture. Michael J. Fox could be the photographer and the photos would still be sharp.

          • BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! Oh man.

    • Banned

      I thought the same thing, technically the shots are good but it lacks the emotion of an artistically composed image. For that kind of shot I’m looking at effects of symmetry, balance, repetition and other patterns that would make it different than your typical pics at the zoo. Although I can see that in the in-flight images, the posed shots are a little boring. It was a great occasion for macro shots of feathers and other things that are only possible in such privileged settings.

      I’m just saying that because it’s a studio setting so I’m in an artistic mindset rather than a natural setting where the expectations are different.

      But it was only your first visits so now that those people trust you I’m sure you could push the envelope further next time.

      • Banned

        Also a “headshot portrait” of a bird is a little silly as we tend to think of a bird as a whole and not a face and a body unlike a human but that’s just my opinion.

        • Ben

          the face and eyes are so interesting to see. Most photos can be this close to the bird so this is lacking so much of the time. Great to see it here.

    • Autofocus issues can be dealt with. Zoom out and ensure the whole bird is framed, while still using the central focal point. Crop as needed. 36MP is good for that, too.


  • D800

    Amazing pictures but i am disappointed in Nikon. Nikon really needs to fix this autofocus issue, i mean we’ve been hearing way too many complaints about the D800’s autofocus, left, right where ever autofocus point. It’s sketchy for potential buyers of this camera.

    I’d like to buy the D800 but i will not until they fix the autofocus.
    I think we should all do so.

    For crying out lcd screens, lock ups, autofocus, COME ON NIKON!

    I mean we’re spending $3000+ GIVE US A BETTER AUTOFOCUS!

    • Banned

      It’s a shame your perfectly capable D700 magically blew up the day they released the D800, how will you take photos now?

      • fjfjjj


      • arizonaSteve

        I felt a little sick to my stomach today when I saw a d700 for sale (100k+ actuations) for $1100 at (salt lake city’s classifieds). I was hoping my d700 was going to maintain monetary value a little longer. Still a great camera though.

        • Christobella

          Monetary value matters not. No matter what future cameras I may buy, I for one will not be selling my D700.

        • 103 David

          One more time…invest in the lenses, consider the cameras disposable.

    • Andrew

      Yeah, most of the complaints are coming from Canon users. I love fanboys!

      • Rudi

        yup, stupid with envy!

    • RoyL

      “I’d like to buy the D800 but i will not until they fix the autofocus.
      I think we should all do so.”

      Oops…too late. I got a D800E the second week of availability. Had the problem. Sent to Nikon. Perfect. But you hang in there and wait. I’ll be out here supporting you in my thoughts …….. sorry, had to get that shot.

      • Pablo Ricasso

        plus that!

  • Al

    Some very nice shots, especially Savigny’s Owl.

    The lighting set up reflected in the eyes is very odd and distracting though. The different sized light orb in each eye, and the dark outline of the light unit itself. Two backlit umbrellas (like the one on the left) might be nicer.

    A shot that would work nicely I think would be to use a wide angle and have the bird landing onto it’s dinner right infront of the lens, so it feels like you are about to become dinner, talons outstretched and eyes fixed. Tighter portrait orientated shots might work nicer for the ‘head & shoulder’ shots too.

    I look forward to seeing some more of these beautiful birds.

    • first thing I thought “we always see these birds shot at tele lengths”. if I had this opportunity i would have pulled out the 14-24. or a fisheye!

      • rad

        Yeah! I would use my 11-16 with a piece of meat hanging on the filter ring. One of the most amazing things of these birds are their claws. Open claws in the foreground and the body of the bird flying at background

      • alex

        at least I would have chosen a cheap 50mm (or 85) for these human style portrait shot at kind of max aperture (+ND filter)

        However wide angle would have been my first choice.

        I dont see the point of using a 200-400mm, this + the deep black out flatten the images, a bit of texture would add more impact. Here it looks like if they were classic but amazing wildlife photography but cropped and put onto a black background.

  • FanBoy

    Don’t care about non-rumors stuff on this site at all. Give me a break. I come to your site simply because I want to read some rumors only. Who cares those non-rumor stuff anyway?

    • Come back at the end of July for more rumors. In the mean time enjoy the guets posts.

    • BartyL

      I heard a rumour that all FanBoys are the result of a union between brother and sister.

    • Hendog

      I personally am a fan of the guest posts, please keep them coming! If you have an issue with them, just don’t read them? With the owl shots, I’d like to see less even illumination and improved composition as mentioned above. They are still good shots though. Can’t be easy to get focus spot on in this situation.

      • Rob

        Loosen up on the ISOs, a bit less flash perhaps

  • Dan Lebrun

    This is fake, the D800 doesn’t exist, it’s not even in the stores yet…

    • Tiger1050Rider

      So that lovely bit of kit sitting on the desk beside me is nothing but a mirage then?

      Oh and all those picture I took of the Tour de France yesterday with this imaginary camera are also a figment of my imaginations?


      • BartyL

        On the bright side, think of how awesome it’s going to be when you actually get your camera!

        Have been loosely following the Tour to see how Cadell Evans is doing, but it’s on past my middle-aged bedtime so I’m making do with the daily summaries on SBS.

  • Thanks everyone for both the compliments and criticisms. For the sake of clarity I want to specify that, while I found the AF of the D800 to be very frustrating, the composition is exactly as I intended. I don’t want to give the false impression that the composition was in any way related to my dissatisfaction with the AF. Whether you like it or dislike it, the composition is entirely my own just as I wanted it to be and is not a product of any equipment limitations. Please have a look at the other images from the session as linked in the article.

    • JR

      Steven, loved looking through them. Do not take too much weight with what is said here. I frequent here often just for the comedy. Most people posting slept with a photographer at some point; but that’s about it.

      • Thanks JR. I chose to do this blog post with the full understanding that I would have to absorb some warranted and unwarranted criticism. I stand by both my results and the rights of others to rip me apart as they see fit. It was a fantastic experience that I feel lucky to have had which produced results I am very pleased with, and a little criticism is perfectly acceptable.

      • iamlucky13

        To be honest, I’m surprised so far that the criticisms have generally been respectful. This place can get a little coarse sometimes, and usually the coarseness isn’t deserved. I’d guess some of the more outrageous characters, when confronted with real photos instead of bluster about gear, wisened up and clammed up.

        I think they’re great shots. I know how hard it is to capture moving objects at high reproduction ratios (nowhere near 1:1, but still a lot bigger than shooting sports), especially in tight confines indoors. I bet the client was or will be very happy with the photos.

        I also would have done several of the compositions different, but that’s a matter between him and his client and what they think of the images.

        One other critique, if I may risk adding to the cacophony, is the lighting is fairly flat. Turning the lighting down on one side by a stop or two would have added more perceived depth to the photos, which in my opinion, would have made these excellent photos even better. Of course, there’s other effects to use like hair (feather?) lighting, but for the first session, why not keep it simple?

        • Well stated input. While I was pleased with the lighting, I also think you have an interesting point. I will play with the lighting a bit more when I go back and I appreciate your feedback.

          • I agree, cool shots – I would be pleased with them but would look for opportunities to improve which would include the lighting.

            I think a ‘hairlight’ or backlight would have added to the depth as well, could have probably used one of the Einsteins in the rear and had enough light to do a 60/40 or some similar ratio in front.

            Just a thought.

            • arizonaSteve

              Really great shots.

              +1 for a rim/back/hairlight. A few of the birds have some darker plumage around the edges that get lost in the background.

        • don

          Another alternative lighting set up would be to use that big PLM as an on-axis fill light (~-2EV)with you/camera right in front of it. Your main light could be anywhere right or left of it. Simple set up but would yield very beautiful results.

          I also would favor making sure the entire bird’s body is in the frame and use the cropping headroom that 36MP will get you.

          Lots of options to think of for your next session with these magnificent creatures. But all in all, great job with these pictures, Steven.

          • Thanks for your constructive input.

      • MarkH

        I agree with JR’s comments. I used to visit Nikonrumours a lot, but the increase in annoying posts drove me away. I am here now very rarely, but it was a pleasure to read Steven’s post.

        Frankly, I more than enjoyed Steven’s post – I’ve actually learnt a few things I’d not known before, hence the importance that Admin continues to bring in guest posters. I hope Admin sticks to his methods. They work. These posts give some context to the very objects of the rumours.

        Indeed, (and I have to be very careful here, lest I open up the negative posters) this post raises, for me, the question – how would the D4 have compared in its focusing ability in this particular shoot? A comparison might put the comments about the D800’s focusing challenges into context and perhaps also the D800’s resolution.

        Anyway, thanks for sharing a lot of hard work with a few strangers.


        • Thanks for your encouraging words and positivity.

    • Nice

      Thanks for sharing!

      My favorite is the Harris-Hawk-3.

      How much are we talking about if we account for all expenses of this session?

      Have you considered using mice to provoke the birds?
      It usually works, they scream and jump on top of the table!
      Maybe “playing with eggs” could also be used to get a nice reaction from the birds?
      Seriously, if possible, please.

      • Hello. I rented about $550 worth of gear for this particular shoot.

        • Nice

          Thanks for answering.

          Guess the most important part is priceless!

          Just one idea for your next session, maybe you could shoot tethered (or remotely), in order to surpass the proximity to subject problem, choosing a lens that would take better advantage of f11, to try compensating for moving subject and acceptable focus range.
          Just don’t forget insuring gear.

          Anyway, I’m sure you already have a huge list of things you want to do next time.

          Good “luck”, and don’t let the negative remarks prevent you from posting next session results, but read them, nevertheless.

    • syd

      Personally I can’t see any problem with composition, if that is infact the look and feel Steven wanted. Yes the comments were by and large polite and not too harsh, but I don’t think Steven posted here asking for critique.

      I wonder how many of the critiquers have shot with birds of prey indoors. Frankly what I am suprised is that Steven didn’t get talloned to death with those bright strobes. Owls eyes are like a D700 sensor on steroids!

      Kudos, I like yer art Steven!

    • RoyL

      What I really don’t like about these shots is this: I wasn’t there. Wow, what a great opportunity for you. I like the detail in these shots, and you had to have a great time getting them. On the rare occasion that I get a good raptor photo I find myself breathless afterward. You must have needed a bottle of oxygen.

  • 103david

    Okay, all you fanboys out there…Nikon, Canon, or whatever…Listen up and pay attention…This is important if for no other reason than it concerns your immortal souls…It’s not about whatever your camera does or does not do…It’s about the owls…Got that?
    It’s about the owls.

  • JR

    I just love reading most of your douche replies about why this isn’t right or why you’d have done it differently. It’s hard being an expert with a big mouth isn’t it?

    • Ben

      yes, for all the complainers, post something better if you dont like this. Really these are great.

      • I agree, anyone that think can do better or has an interesting topic/images can email me about a guest post.

  • Disiderio

    As an existing D700 owner, I am skeptical about trading up to a d800 until these autofocus problems are wiped out. I could use the extra resolution for large prints, but at the same time, it won’t bode well in a wedding environment where nailing focus is a priority, particularly at very shallow DOF when lenses like the 200mm are involved.

    • Andrew

      Yeah, too bad many people don’t see it this way, just look at the incredible demand for the D800.

  • D800

    Hey Steven,

    was it just the left side autofocus points you were having problems with ?

    • It is where I noticed it the most, but nothing outside of the center left me feeling comfortable. I switched over to my D3s while testing and it was spot on.

      • D800

        I have read lots of complaints on the d800s left autofocus.
        Apparently Nikon fixes the issue if you send it in. Maybe you can send yours in, have it fixed and let us know if it’s better than before?

  • Bill Me Later

    I loved the Owl shots.
    And, for the person who says the D800 doesn’t exist. Geeesh….I have had mine for three weeks. I think it does exist, or I am holding a mirage.

  • DearJohn

    I too own a D700 and would like the D800 but this autofocus issue is keeping me from buying it. Imagine shooting a job and realizing most of your shots are out of focus.

    I thought the D800’s autofocus was supposed to be better than the D700. Seems the other way around.

    I’ll wait a couple of months. Hopefully new batches of D800 have perfect/fixed autofocus.

    • Bengt Nyman

      Exactly my point.
      I have requested that Nikon announces a serial number or manufacturing date after which the problem has been taken care of.
      However, so far this has received no sympathy from Nikon, making me worry that the problem may be more complicated or more illusive than one would like to think.

      • Sky

        I wouldn’t count for any good fix before D900.

        • Bengt Nyman

          You might be right because it appears the Nikon D800 focusing problems are indicative of a major shift in camera manufacturing.
          Both Canon and Nikon are trying to reduce cost by loosening manufacturing tolerances on both bodies and lenses. Instead they are introducing adjustments such as lens correction factors. This works fine for primes and partially for zooms. The next step for zooms will be to introduce several correction factors at key points along the focal length. One of my high end zooms while corrected at the long end is unacceptably out of focus at the wide end.
          If the D800 focusing problem continuous I wouldn’t be surprised to see firmware with correction entries for all the cameras individual focus points. In other words separate correction factors for center focus, left focus etc. These correction factors could initially be hidden from the users only to allow Nikon to save money in manufacturing. Long term many of us would of course like to be able to fine tune them to our liking.
          One thing is clear. Something has to happen. The combination of tolerances and technologies in the D800 does not appear to be a producible platform.
          It’s a shame, because the Sony produced D800 image sensor represents a big leap forward. Now the rest of the Nikon D800? has to catch up.

          • D800

            There’s a huge problem with the D800’s autofocus. People keep ignoring it an still buy it and then complain about it.

            Nikon seems to want to ignore it too.
            Why should we wait for a D900 to have a fixed autofocus.
            It’s not fair, especially for those who’ve waited 3 years for a D700 upgrade.

            There’s a huge difference between buying a camera for a hobby, ignoring its faults and buying it for actual professional work. This autofocus issue is keeping me from using the d800 for professional work.

            I love my d700 but I need more megapixels, if this autofocus issue is not solved in the next few months I think I just might actually sell all my nikon glass and switch to the 5d mark iii.

            I can’t wait another 3 years for a D900 with a fixed autofocus.

            Ps, Admin/Nikon, please don’t sensor this. I’m just being real about this issue. We’re paying $3000. We would really appreciate a fix or an acknowledgment to te problem.

            • Bengt Nyman

              Nikon is aware. Nikon is capable. However, Nikon and Canon both are under extreme financial pressure to generate revenue right now. The disasters of 2011 were near killers for both of them. Canon choose to play it safe with a rather minor upgrade of the 5D2 into the relatively unexciting 5D3. Nikon ventured out into deep pixel waters not knowing there were millions of us out there waiting for a product like that. Nikon is doing the only thing they can afford to do right now; pump out the product and hope that most of it floats. They are obviously not interested in advertising the problem because there is no simple fix at the production level. It is more of a yield problem. I am waiting until my dealer can let me take home several D800E bodies for test to hopefully buy one of them.
              If this happens before Sony brings out a mirror-less, full-frame, 36MP NEX with an automatic Canon or Nikon mount, I am sure I will be very happy with my new D800E.

        • Bengt Nyman

          You might be right. It appears Nikonrumors just censored one of my more technical comments suggesting that they are trying to keep the lid on.

  • JPW

    What a hoot!

    I mean, what a shoot!


  • Tracht

    Love the Ural Owl picture. Incredible!!!!

    • Thank you! There is one of her on my website where she is begging for food that I quite like also. They are such beautiful birds.

  • Anonymus Maximus

    How did the birds take to the flash? Were they scared or irritated? Or did they ignore it?

    • That is a great question which I should have addressed in my post. Most of the birds had very little to no reaction, with “very little” meaning they looked at the lights with an acute curiosity the first few times they fired and then lost interest. There were only 2 birds bothered by the lights and they both were vultures (a black vulture and lesser yellow headed vulture). Neither of them enjoyed the lights at all and were very skittish so I didn’t photograph them for long. The black vulture hopped off of its perch, ran around the room, and pecked my girlfriend on the toe before being tempted back into its enclosure with a large piece of chicken!

      • Anonymus Maximus

        Thanks for the reply. Most animals I know can’t be bothered as well.
        Thanks for the posting and lots of fun with the good work!

  • Bob

    Lots of D800’s available in this city. I could rent or buy one today if I wanted one.

  • Bob

    Read what renowned wildlife photographer Brad Hill had to say about the D800 vs. D4 as wildlife photo cameras. In the field test – Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada.

    Go to Galleries – Latest to see some of his amazing photos shot there.

    • Bengt Nyman

      Thanks for the link.
      Interesting comparison but I do not agree with his method.
      He states: “D800 images reduced in resolution to match D4 images in Photoshop CS6 (bicubic interpolation).”
      That is no longer an uncorrupted or even a representative D800 image.
      Let you eyes be the judge, not Photoshop CS6 bicubic interpolation.

  • Spy Black

    Great work on those shots, I know shooting active critters is a challenge. I have similar adventures shooting insects in macro.

    Have you considered triggers for some of the flight shots? It would allow you to have a pre-focused spot so when a bird flies through the trigger point the camera fires off. A bit hot or miss possibly, but could offer some additional perspectives.

    Great work.

  • Spy Black

    P.S., doesn’t VR work against you on a tripod?

    • WoutK89

      Some lenses have a special “Tripod” setting, but in general it is true, advice is at all times to turn VR off on a tripod.

    • Yes it does work against you. I had it turned off for these shots. Some of the big lenses, like the 600mm, have a tripod setting. The 200-400mm does not.

  • Scott M

    Wow, great post Steven! Thanks for all the tech info and the photo of your lighting setup. It will be interesting to see the next series. Love the owls.

  • frans

    Sorry, I do not like these pictures. Due to the telelens and mostly the lighting the birds look totally flat.

    • kraven

      Some really great shots you have there. I also like to see these magnificent birds out flying than stuck indoors or behind a cage. Thanx for the lin k to your blog.

  • Dan

    Sorry, but you just missed a huge opportunity, the images look so flat due to the focal length that you have used, I would have picked an 85 1.4 or the 105 micro for this shot…

    • syd

      Gawd no wonder photogs are generally labelled nobs in the real world. Do you talk like that to your clients?

  • Having these amazing birds in the studio with this fantastic lighting gear is such a wonderful oppurtuntity, Am i the only one completely unimpressed with the product. the lighting looks week to me the composition is hit and miss and the moments captures seem ok some our great alot are pretty blah.

    I really wanted to love this but i am unenthused

    • syd

      Lessoned learned: if you’re an artist, don’t post your work on Nikon Rumours for fear of being hammered.

      To every one of you nobs who has commented so harshly (and it is harsh now), get your nobs out of your f mounts and stop giving uninvited harsh critisism.

      Admin, please excuse if I were to decline being a guest poster should you invite me, not because of you site but half its clientelle.

      • I would suggest not being an artist at all. frankly if you arent prepared to hear that some people dont like your work and maybe even learn something from it you should just quit now this isnt the gig for you. Frankly your reating this way to people posting negative critiques is childish.

        In the art world criticism is part of the game. If you dont want it dont ever show your work to anybody. just keep it a little box all to yourself. but also be prepared to never grow. You have to be willing to hear your work is crap. because you know it might be. and even if its not someone is always gonna be of that opinion. so grow thicker skin and get over it.

        • syd

          firstly I’m Syd not Steve and this isn’t my work. Secondly I reject your notion that criticism is welome in a public forum unless is is asked for (thru an open feedback invitation), and even when it is, I believe it should be constructive. Your comments are 1) uninvited 2) out of context 3) inappropriately harsh and unconstructive. The worst is that you ‘re not even the worst of the comments. I’m glad some people have posted positively because quite frankly if this was my work I’d be regretting having posted here. I think his work is technically very good, more too the point I enjoyed the read.

          • James

            Good comment syd. I agree constructive adult criticism is welcome not Trent’s criticism. And Trent who are you to tell someone it’s not their gig? Maybe some people don’t want to hear it. It’s their work so hey have the option not to listen just like you have the option to keep talking.

            • James

              Ignore the spelling errors I’m on the phone typing. Lol

    • James

      Some people don’t know what is good.

  • Stunning images! Thanks for sharing and showing the setup too. Great to see the Paul C Buffs in action as I’m looking into these right now.

    As for the previous dickish commenters, never mind them! I look forward to seeing the next batch.

    • Thanks for your compliments, Chris.

    • James

      I agree thanks for sharing and ignore the haters. Good job the pictures are beautiful! 🙂

  • John

    What an opportunity….I have always admire the birds of prey so after reading all the comments, I just wonder if lot cases of tall poppy syndrome. Bottom line I enjoy photography, and for this reason I am always looking for new photograph opportunities to improve. & find new challenges. Yes Nikon D800 is coming for my wife & D4 for me so we can’t wait. Well done for sharing but remember every one is free to comment but they really do better, every few I think.

  • Phil

    How was he able to shoot F11 and only ISO 100? I can’t even come close to that even with a 1.4 lens.

  • David

    Trying to autofocus a flying bird, within 5ft of the camera with a 200-400 lens?

    I don’t think ANY autofocus in the world could keep up with that.

  • Steven – You were able to get your Einsteins to sync over 1/250 with D800? Did I miss a firmware update for PW Mini or MC2? I have not been successful as of yet.

    BTW – Nice work.

  • Greg

    As someone who’s shot birds in the wild, I really appreciate the different perspective afforded by a studio shoot with regards to both lighting and body position. As for getting in tight and shooting with a 14-24, I’d rather not be on the business end of those talons.
    I’ve shot sea lions in the wild with that type of lens from that distance, and I can tell you that when they decide the session is over they let you know rather abruptly and you need to be able to move quickly. I can outrun a sea lion, but an angry eagle (even a rehabbing one) is another story.

    • David

      Hahaha Greg, nice post. Good point

  • Beautiful photos. My only suggestion, if you have another run at this, is to drop the black background, as many of the feathers of these birds are dark and are lost with the background (unless you use a backlight…but still I would not use pitch black), Just my 2 cents worth. Great guest gallery post.

  • OrangeBox

    steven, love the shots and composition and i like the lighting as well, sure you could have changed and used different ratios to add more mood etc but these are great images, anyone who has shot a bird will know it aint easy to capture birds movements are extremely rapid and difficult to capture even more so in doors in confined area.

    wouldn’t take too much on board from the haters, they don’t know any better :), they would rather talk about photography than actually do it!

    kudos to you man top job!

  • OrangeBox

    steven, love the shots and composition and i like the lighting as well, sure you could have changed and used different ratios to add more mood etc but these are great images, anyone who has shot a bird will know it aint easy to capture birds movements are extremely rapid and difficult to capture even more so in doors in confined area.

    wouldn’t take too much on board from the haters, they don’t know any better 🙂 , they would rather talk about photography than actually do it!

    kudos to you man top job!


  • Frank

    One thing I don’t understand from your reasoning behind using the 200-400VR:

    You discarded the 105VR as an option because of:
    “my depth of field was just entirely too small at such a short focal distance.”

    DoF depends on two things only: magnification and aperture setting.

    Given identical aperture value, sensor size and composition, DoF is also identical. Close distance with short lens or large distance with long lens definitely influences various aspects of your shot, but not the DoF…

    So unless the 105VR already suffers from diffraction at f/11 (the same aperture as you used on the 200-400), I do not see how this could be an argument against this lens.

    Of course a safe working distance for yourself and your gear is a very valid argument 🙂

    • OrangeBox

      actually DOF is also affected by distance to subject, 🙂 just saying

      • Frank

        Distance to subject is one of the two components (together with focal length) that determines magnification. And as I said, magnification influences DoF (larger magnification, shorter DoF).

        So yes, if you only change the subject distance the DoF will change and if you only change the focal length, the DoF will change as well. But if you do that the magnification changes too.

        Steve clearly mentioned that he had a particular composition/magnification in mind, before choosing the lens. So, if he chooses a short focal length, he must reduce his distance to subject to achieve the desired composition/magnification. If he chooses a long focal length, he must increase the distance to subject to achieve the desired composition/magnification.

        But the composition/magnification remains the same and so does the DoF. A reduction in distance to subject is balanced out by a shorter focal length and vice versa.

        Hence my comment that the DoF can never be reason to choose a lens in this setting.

        Unless a lens does not perform well on the preferred aperture setting and would require a wider aperture which would reduce the DoF. But since this is only F/11 in this case, I would not expect that.

  • Ben

    Do you have any full size images available from this shoot. I am very interested to see what t he full resolution looks like. I didn’t see and full resolution links.


    • Hi Ben. I’d be happy to put one up. Perhaps Admin would be interested in adding a link to this post?

    • I uploaded two full size images on flickr.

  • Bob

    Great job in getting the eyes in sharp focus in all photos which is absolutely critical in all wildlife photography! Whether the whole bird or animal is in focus is comparatively of little importance.

  • Funduro

    Eastern Screech Owl – Reminds me of the lead singer of Flock of Seagulls modern rock band from the 80’s.

  • chuck

    So I walk into a local store, not even a cameara store and whats sitting on the shelf? Four brand new D800’s. Now I need to see if i can cancel my order with j&r.

  • Craig

    I’m glad you will will be able to take more photos! I would try a white, brown or green background as well, but that depends on the client. I’m glad to see this lens performs quite well as I have read otherwise here and on other web sites.

  • Jk

    Could use a tad more sharpening for some pop. 🙂

  • Thanks for posting, an interesting take on subjects that you’d not expect to find in a studio! Personally I’d take the opportunity to use something wider than a tele, if I had to shoot captive animals. You can play with that 200-400 all day in a hide 😉

    I’m not a fan of using flash with animals, particularly with nocturnal or crepuscular species – like some owls. Whilst captive creatures may not be affected in the same way, I’d question how fair it is to use flash on a Barn Owl chick that looks no more than 25 days old. It would never have seen daylight in it’s natural environment, never mind getting a flash in the face. It would not surprise me if this damaged its’ (very sensitive) eyes beyond their ability to repair themselves at such a delicate stage of life. Of course it won’t present a problem for this owl finding food (assuming it is a captive-bred owl – the notion it’s been plucked from a wild nest doesn’t bear thinking about), but personally I’d still like the use of my eyes even if someone was spoon-feeding me dinner every day.

    If you’ve no interest in animals beyond taking a picture, IMHO you shouldn’t be doing so beyond pets, zoos and obliging rescue centres. Some people that claim to “love” owls know bugger all about them and could pose a threat to their survival in the wild, if they set out to try and get some pretty pictures.

    • James

      You have no scientific proof to back up what you are saying. The only difference between a house pet and an owl is more people keep them so it’s mor acceptable to the masses. You don’t know what he knows about owls because you didn’t bother to ask him. How do you know his interest stops at taking pictures? I’m sorry but sometimes people can only criticize without asking questions first or having facts to back it up. I’m. Quite sure the owl is not permanently blinded but like you I can’t prove that.

  • Uploaded two full size images on flickr:

  • James

    Please disregard the typing errors I’m on my phone. Lol

  • James

    Good job on the pictures! Ignore the people who can only criticize because there is always someone. It is your picture and therefore it looks the way you intended it to look not how someone else decides it should look. Criticism is good but only if it is constructive and moves you forward. Thanks for taking your time to share with us! 🙂

  • Ray

    Well, some people will hate me for this, but I just have to give an opinion.

    I reading “Comments” on this site for months, the one thing I notice consistently is some of you make very disrespectful, cutting, demeaning comments about other photographer’s comments.
    Geesh, I am starting to wonder if all Pro photographers might have this personality?!
    Nobody on this site purposefully makes comments to sound “stupid,” or poorly trained in the craft of photography. Why can’t everyone here just be supportive, and keep the nasty comments to themselves?
    EVERY working photographer is wrong about something, makes mistakes, “talks” without thinking (my Mother always said “The vacant mind speaks the loudest.”
    Last week I grabbed my D3x out of the bag to capture an exciting shot, and didn’t notice I hadn’t set the “night shots” settings back.
    Please be respectful. And if you have something demeaning to say about another photographer’s work, just go outside and have a cigarette, Dude.

  • PD

    Good job.

  • Back to top