Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Inquisitive Bighorn Ewe

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In the Field

Inquisitive Bighorn Ewe. Columbia Lake, BC, Canada. February 7, 2009.

I shot this portrait of a Bighorn Sheep ewe (female) while testing a new combination of gear (evaluating some lightweight support options for my 600 mm lens - see Blog entry of February 9, 2009 for details). I'm including this image here for two reasons:

First, I got lucky and managed to capture this inquisitive ewe under what I consider almost ideal lighting for wildlife portraiture. My least favourite lighting (for almost all photography) is bright, direct frontal sunlight - it's often just too harsh. For wildlife portraits I prefer the even lighting of overcast skies, but there are times when the diffuse lighting of overcast skies reduces contrast to the point where some detail in the fur is lost (or at least not shown as well as it could be). Moments before I shot this image the sun was shining brightly on this ewe and the shadows on the right side of its face and neck were very dark. Fortunately I noticed a bank of thin, uniform cloud encroaching on the sun and waited a few minutes. Once the cloud covered the sun the lighting on the ewe "evened out" and the brightness difference between the near white face and the shadows diminished. Just then the ewe looked up and gave me this inquisitive look, complete with a strand of the grass that it had just been munching on dangling from its mouth.

Second...that piece of grass: Is it a distraction from - or an asset to - the image? I've noticed what I think is a growing body of wildlife photographers who are striving to produce "ultra-clean" wildlife images. To this end they often clone out (with Photoshop) anything that they view as distractions from the image (like this piece of grass). While I often like images with unobstructed views of the subject, I think this current trend of sanitizing wildlife images can be - and often is - taken too far. In this case of this image I think the grass ADDS to the image - being completely honest this is definitely NOT a dramatic or thrilling sample of wildlife photography, and the grass adds a little interest to it and will make some viewers wonder why it is there (and they'll take that critical "second look" at the image...).

Behind the Camera

Inquisitive Bighorn Ewe. Columbia Lake, BC, Canada. February 7, 2009.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 200.

Nikon D3 with AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G IF-ED II VR lens supported on Gitzo G 1228 MkII carbon fibre tripod with Acratech Long Lens Head. VR turned to "On" and in "Normal" mode. Autofocus set to M/a mode.

1/200s @ f9; -0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Inquisitive Bighorn Ewe. Columbia Lake, BC, Canada. February 7, 2009.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening and levels adjustment using Phase One's Capture One Pro 4.6. Two RAW conversion at different exposure settings: -0 stops and +.33 stops (to slightly brighten shadows).

Further digital corrections on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS4 and Light Craft's LightZone 3.8.5. Adjustments included compositing and masking of 2 exposure versions, selective colour saturation, selective exposure curve adjustment, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone adjustments and tweaking performed using LightZone (Tonemapper/Re-light tool).


Inquisitive Bighorn Ewe. Columbia Lake, BC, Canada. February 7, 2009.

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

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

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) are considered by many to be a symbol of mountain wilderness. They are distributed throughout much of the mountainous areas of western North America from central British Columbia south to northern Mexico. Local distribution of Bighorns appears to be limited by the availability of suitable foraging areas near "escape" terrain (cliffs or very steep terrain where they can escape predators).

This female Bighorn was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is not currently considered at risk, many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from logging operations. Wildsight is an effective conservation organization that protects biodiversity and promotes sustainable communities in Canada's Columbia and Rocky Mountains. Support for Wildsight, through donation or becoming a member, will help ensure that they remain effective in their efforts to conserve threatened or endangered species and ecosystems.

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