Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Histrionicus histrionicus - Squared!

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In the Field

Histrionicus histrionicus - Squared! Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

One of the things I like about shooting in the Khutzeymateen is that we do virtually all our photography from a Zodiac. There's several positives associated with this - it gives us a nice low shooting angle for any animals found on or near the water, and often the wildlife seems to tolerate our presence better than if we were on foot on shore. There are, of course, some negatives associated with the "Zodiac-only" photography, including the fact that you have to hand-hold your camera for all your shots (which can make shooting with a heavy lens like a 600mm f4 lens quite problematic). And, if you're working with subjects in calm water AND you want to "work with" the reflection, you have a limited amount of time to get the shot before the ripples produced by the Zodiac "damage" the scene. In this case, these two striking male Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) were quite comfortable with our presence and they gave the impression that we could have "sat on them" for quite a stretch of time. But because of the Zodiac's ripples were heading toward them and were about to muck up the reflection I probably had only 20 seconds or so to get this shot. A lot of the time (including with this shot) you have to be "quick on your camera" to get your shot!

This shot was captured fairly early in the day - quite a while before the sun had risen enough to clear the mountains surrounding the Khutzeymateen Inlet. The dark tones here are totally natural and reflect quite accurately how the scene appeared in the field. The very dark blues on the birds, combined with the bright white patches on them, made "capturing the full dynamic range" of the scene the primary technical challenge on this shot. Most wildlife shooters know that the dynamic range of ANY camera is better at lower ISO's, so the primary technical constraint on this shot was minimizing the ISO (along with, of course, exposing the scene correctly and taking care not to blow out the white highlights). Fortunately, this technical constraint complemented what I wanted to do with the shot creatively - I wanted a thin DoF with all but the ducks and the log thrown out of focus, i.e., with the foreground and background as "soft" as possible. So that meant a wide aperture - in this case I chose f4.5 (on my Sigma 500mmm f4 Sport lens). It's great when the technical constraints on a shot match up with your creative goals!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of these eye-catching ducks:

Histrionicus histrionicus - Squared: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.0 MB)


1. This image was captured during one of my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2017. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

2. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

Histrionicus histrionicus - Squared! Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 800.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma 500mm f4 Sport lens. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with OS1 stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

1/500s @ f4.5; -1-0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Histrionicus histrionicus - Squared! Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Five raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.8 stop total difference between the variants), shadow recovery settings, and noise reduction settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the five output files from the raw converter, very minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Histrionicus histrionicus - Squared! Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Eastern population (Nunavut, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador) listed as species of Special Concern.

The Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) is one of our most visually striking yet least known species of ducks. The Harlequin uses clear, fast-flowing rivers and streams for breeding (where it moves with great agility in turbulent white water). After breeding the ducks migrate to both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where they prefer to occupy the shallow intertidal zones of rocky coastlines.

There are a number of threats to Harlequin populations, including overhunting, disturbance, and habitat loss. It is likely that populations of the Harlequin Duck on the eastern coast of North America was never very large (likely no larger than 10,000 individuals), and currently winter populations are likely no larger than 1,500 birds. Until about a decade ago little was known about the ecology of the Harlequin Duck, but currently a lot of research effort is being directed towards them - hopefully with the result that whatever factor has driven the eastern populations down can be accurately identified and successful conservation efforts and interventions can be initiated.

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada