Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Battle Scarred

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In the Field

Battle Scarred. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. May 4, 2016.

Over much of North America squirrels are pretty commonplace animals and consequently it's quite easy to overlook them. Decades ago, when I was a grad student in behavioral ecology studying the evolution of vertebrate territorial systems (and working "on the side" on various aspects of avian and mammalian vocalizations) I began to get intrigued by squirrels. Given that many species of squirrels are both highly territorial and very vocal and even vociferous, I guess that's hardly surprising! Based on the size of the injury on top of his head it would appear this particular character-rich red squirrel bit off a bit more than he could chew, either in the form of a more aggressive and competing squirrel who gave him a bit of a licking or a predator like an owl or hawk that he escaped from.

I captured this image with a Nikon D500 shortly after the camera was released. One of the things I do when I'm first evaluating a camera is shoot it in situations I would - or easily could - run into in the field. With the D500 one of the things I was particularly keen on getting a handle on was how it paired up with the Nikkor 300mm f4 PF VR lens - both alone (so with an Effective Focal Length - or EFL - of 450mm) and with the TC-14EIII 1.4x teleconverter (so with an EFL of 630mm). The small size of that lens and camera combination (even with the TC) is SO compelling! And, I'm REALLY happy to say that I'm getting GREAT results out of the D500 with that lens. This wildlife photographer is just loving having a high-quality "tiny" professional-level lens/camera combination (and an "almost as tiny" 630mm outfit) for those walks in the woods when you don't know what you'll encounter. Sweet!

Being the curious type, I decided to casually test the optical quality of two other similar focal length offerings against the 300mm f4 PF plus TC-14EIII - the 400mm f2.8E VR and the Sigma Sport 150-600mm (at a comparable focal length) when working close with this squirrel and a few of his "buddies". Hardly surprisingly, the D500 plus 400mm f2.8E VR combination (with an EFL of 600mm) was the sharpest combination. The Sigma Sport at 400mm-420mm (600-630mm EFL) came second in sharpness, with the 300mm f4 PF plus 1.4x TC-14EIII third. But - most importantly - the sharpness difference in the images from sharpest to softest was really minor and within the range that someone with good post-processing skills could largely overcome. Don't expect to see me put my 400mm f2.8E VR up for sale any time soon, but it's really nice to know that if one is weight-constrained (like when traveling by air or when hiking with gear) you don't have to settle for carrying gear that produces second-rate images!

Here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of this pesky and somewhat ornery little devil!

Battle Scarred: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 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/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

Battle Scarred. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. May 4, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1800.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 300mm f4 PF VR plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) teleconverter, for a total EFL of 630mm. Tripod-mounted and with Jobu Heavy Duty MkIV gimbal head. VR on and in "Sport" mode

1/320s @ f11; +0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Battle Scarred. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. May 4, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Lightroom CC 2015.5 (ACR 9.5). Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (1.0 stop total difference between the variants) and shadow recovery settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, minor tweaks to colour saturation, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Battle Scarred. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. May 4, 2016.

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

IUCN Conservation Status**: Species of Least Concern.

The Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a medium-sized squirrel that occupies year-round exclusive territories from which they will aggressively repel intruding squirrels. They are widely distributed across much of North America almost everywhere conifers (and the cones the squirrels feed on) are found, except on portions of the west coast where they are replaced by Douglas Squirrels (AKA "Chickarees").

Red Squirrels have adapted well to the presence of humans and have the IUCN conservation status of a species of Least Concern. In many urban areas in North America the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) have been introduced and ecologically replaced Red Squirrels. In North America this hasn't seemed to impact much on rural Red Squirrel populations, but in Britain the introduction of the Eastern Gray has had a major impact on the native Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), with the invasive grays replacing the native reds over much of their historical range.

*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 the IUCN: The Internation Union for Conservation of Nature - see