Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Clark's Nutcracker - The Monochrome Bird!

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In the Field

Clark's Nutcracker - The Monochrome Bird! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. February 21, 2017.

Those who live in mountainous regions that have either Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulus) or Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) may be familiar with the subject of this shot - the Clark's Nutcracker. These large members of the jay family are among my favourite songbirds. Like all jays, they're full of character (and quite loud!). As a photographer who pays attention to the tonal range of his subjects these birds have always amused me - you couldn't a better example of an animal that contains pure blacks, pure whites, and an almost perfect 128-128-128 gray body! Yes, I know there are LOTS of subtle and nuanced gray tones on Nutcrackers when you see 'em up close (like in this shot), but at a distance they are just SO black-white-and-gray! ;-)

As a wildlife photographer I run into a lot of situations where I end up with one quick chance to capture a specific shot (and if I MISS that chance, I'm hooped). Because of this, having confidence in my gear (meaning KNOWING it will always do what I expect it to) is a huge thing for me. With new cameras and lenses this confidence ONLY comes with time - the piece of equipment pretty much has to EARN my confidence.

Over time the super-telephoto lens that I've developed the MOST "gear confidence" in is my Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR. However, in the winter of 2016/2017 I did an extended field test of two competing 500mm f4 lenses - the Sigma Sport 500mm f4 AND the Nikkor 500mm f4E VR. And, I can say right now - after 3 months of testing the two lenses - that BOTH of these great super-telephotos have earned my confidence. I know that BOTH of them focus fast, focus accurately, have great image stabilization systems, and produce VERY sharp shots (when used properly!). I don't think either of them will knock the 400mm f2.8E VR off its pedestal as my favourite wildlife lens, but I look forward to having a great 500mm prime option in my wildlife kit.

This particular Nutcracker image was captured with the Sigma Sport 500mm f4 lens...

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this nosey and noisy monochrome bird:

Clark's Nutcracker - The Monochrome Bird! Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.1 MB)


1. 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!

2. 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 (including vocalizations or sounds).

Behind the Camera

Clark's Nutcracker - The Monochrome Bird! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. February 21, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 500.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 500mm f4. Supported on Jobu Algonquin tripod with Jobu Heavy Duty MkIV gimbal head (with all tensioners loose). OS on and in "OS1" mode, with OS1 stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

1/500s @ f10; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Clark's Nutcracker - The Monochrome Bird! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. February 21, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.5 stop total difference between the variants) and shadow recovery 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 four output files from the raw converter, minor selective contrast adjustment (using a curves adjustment layer), and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Clark's Nutcracker - The Monochrome Bird! Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. February 21, 2017.

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

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

The Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is a nosey and noisy member of the jay family and is found in coniferous forests in the mountains of North America. Clark's Nutcrackers feed primarily on pine seeds but show extreme flexibility in adapting to new food sources, including using bird feeders or robbing food from campgrounds.

This Clark's Nutcracker was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is not currently considered at risk, it is vulnerable to habitat loss due to logging activities. Many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from logging operations.

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