Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Into the Setting Sun

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In the Field

Into the Setting Sun. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

I captured this rather handsome Bald Eagle flying into the setting sun way back in 2016...long before we knew that eye-detect autofocus systems were an absolute requirement for photographing birds in flight! So I guess this one is a Forrest Gump sort of shot - and it's a darned good thing I didn't even KNOW I couldn't shoot this without eye-detect AF! ;-)

Like a lot of wildlife photographers, I do enjoy shooting the BIF's (Birds-In-Flight). But I am in no way a specialist or expert in shooting them - and I am more-or-less self-taught. My default preferences in shooting BIF's include shooting them hand-held, usually (but not always) freezing the action rather than shooting motion blurs, composing the shot in the viewfinder and then panning with the subject (rather than composing the shot via cropping and relying on focus-tracking to keep the subject in focus), and shooting my Nikon DSLR in either Group Area AF or one of the smaller Dynamic Area AF modes.

When I captured this shot the eagle was initially flying almost directly at me and I was using Group Area AF, which prioritizes the closest "can be focused on" object within the cluster of points in the group. But as soon as the eagle turned and was going to present me with a mostly a broad-side view I instantly switched to my D5's 72-point Dynamic Area mode and grabbed focus on the head region. I did this because while I shoot action primarily using Group Area mode, when it comes to BIF's that are flying by you (as opposed to AT you) the closest "thing" for the camera to focus on can be the closest wing tip, and if the focus nabs that wing tip the head can be thrown OUT of focus. Fortunately with the D5 (and the D6 now) you can switch the camera's AF area mode simply by pushing one of many different buttons on the body or lens (depending on how you customize the camera) - all while looking through the viewfinder and keeping your eye on the subject. Without this feature my chances of capturing this shot as you see it would have been reduced. While the current top of the line Nikon Z-bodies (i.e., the Z 6II and the Z 7II) don't offer this "instant switching of AF area mode via button pushing" I am confident Nikon will offer this critical customization option on the coming Z 9 pro-level mirrorless body. Heck, they may even offer bird eye-detect AF capabilities so soon I may even be able to shoot shots like this one! ;-)

Of course, technical concerns (and technical sarcasm) aside, one can never forget that - at the end of the day - capturing compelling wildlife shots (including eye-catching BIF's) depends as much on BEING THERE in the right conditions as it does having the latest and greatest gear. Nope, I would NOT have wanted to try to capture this shot with my iPhone, but I would have had a good chance capturing it with any camera I have owned from about the Nikon D3 on!

Here's a considerably larger version (2400 pixel) of this adult Bald Eagle:

Into the Setting Sun: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.8 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 photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Into the Setting Sun. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 400.

Nikon D5 with Sigma Sport 500mm f4. Hand-held. OS on and in OS 2 (panning) mode. 72-point Dynamic area AF area mode.

1/2000s @ f6.3; +0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Into the Setting Sun. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 21. Global adjustments on this image were limited to a tweak to contrast (using the Levels tool). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 7 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to brightness, blacks, shadows, contrast (via curves), color balance, and sharpness and structure (which is a Capture One thing).

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Into the Setting Sun. Chilkat River, Alaska, USA. November 24, 2016.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk. The Bald Eagle was listed as "Endangered" in the contiguous US states from 1967 to 1995. In 1995 it was downlisted to "Threatened". On June 28, 2007 Bald Eagles were removed from the list of endangered and threatened species - a true American conservation success story.

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a very large bird of prey with broad wings. Adults possess characteristic white ("bald") heads. It takes Bald Eagles a full five years to attain their characteristic adult plumage (including their nearly pure white head and tail). In the years prior to the development of their adult plumage they are easy to confuse with Golden Eagles. Being very broad-winged Bald Eagles are able to use an energy-efficient flapping-soaring style of flight. While many people like to think of the Bald Eagle as a fierce hunter, in reality they hunt only as a last resort. More commonly they scavenge for their prey. Additionally, they often klepto-parasitize other weaker species such as Osprey, commonly stealing the other species hard-earned prey items. The Bald Eagle is, of course, the national emblem of the United States (Benjamin Franklin argued against this - his preference was for the Wild Turkey).

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