Chasing The Light For A Swainson’s Hawk

Mia and I often joke with each other that we’d make terrible landscape photographers because we’d be bored by all the waiting around for ideal conditions such as dramatic clouds and perfect light.  We much prefer the excitement, unpredictability and the occasional and unexpected delights of bird photography.  One of the clichés applied to landscape photographers is that they are always “chasing the light”.

But for the first two days of our recent Montana trip that’s exactly what we were doing.  Conditions were largely cloudy and we would only occasionally get a fleeting break in the clouds.  When we’d see some light off in the distance I’d often quickly drive toward it hoping for birds but that approach seldom worked.

At one point we referred to the beginning of this trip as our “Chasing the Light Tour” – like wannabe rock stars I guess…



swainsons hawk 3895 ron dudley

 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 800, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in

But at least one time our strategy paid off and I was able to approach this Swainson’s Hawk on a post with a momentary spot of light on it and a mostly dark background.  With the fluffed up feathers it looks like it was rousing but it actually held this pose for quite a while.

I used my tc for a few shots to get better detail but I don’t like my ISO to be as high as 800 and I was uncomfortable with the low shutter speed if the bird took off so I removed the tc…



swainson's hawk 3915 ron dudley

 1/1000, f/4.5, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in

which allowed me to set my aperture at 4.5 and get some more shutter speed.  The hawk took off mostly toward me and I liked the results despite the unnatural perch.

Thankfully we had great light for the last three days of the trip.  Chasing the light may work for some but it’s just not my cup of tea…


15 comments to Chasing The Light For A Swainson’s Hawk

  • Mike

    Ohhh man, Swainson’s… My favorites, along with Prairies, on your blog.

  • Nancy


  • Jane Chesebrough

    That bird is so pretty, love the white fluffy feathers. And I would love a photo of the fence post with the wire sans bird-very artistic. What a great take-off shot!

  • I am smiling (loudly) at the image I have of you in mad mode, culling 6000 images. I am also looking forward (a lot) to seeing the fruit of your labours. I loved this bird – thank you so much.

    • Ha! I finished culling those images at 2:39 this afternoon, Elephant’s Child. It took me three days, off and on (mostly on). I guess the only thing worse than having to cull is not having the photos in the first place. Perhaps I just like to complain…

  • Charalotte Norton

    Ron these are simply perfection! These shots alone were worth the trip and the lesson in patience and knowledge.
    Thanks so much for sharing them!
    Charlotte Norton

  • These photos are absolutely gorgeous. The second one especially calls to me. We’ve been watching them soar in our area (their underside makes them quite recognizable in the air) but I’ve never gotten to see one up close. Thank you for giving us such detailed photos.

  • Tanja

    Your shots are absolutely stunning. The Swainson hawk was one of the first I started taking photos of. Found a nest early on and got great pics all they way through fledging.

  • Mark Amershek

    Ron – Since I am somewhat new to your blog – I was wondering does Mia also photograph. Or is having only one photographer in the family enough.

    Nice pix of the Swainson.


    • Mark, Mia is as addicted to photography as I am. She knows bird ID better than I do and I learned much of what I know about processing from her. I’m the driver but she spots more birds than I do, partly because she has better eyesight at distances than me. I think we make a great team.

  • Dick Harlow

    I understand, but I would think out west, in the wide open spaces that you all have out there, even in poor light conditions, your shots will be terrific!! Case in point, these great shots of the Swainson’s. I marvel at how sharp you images are even when the light is not as good as you would like. Kudoos to you!!

    • Dick, Not the case – low light makes for poor shots even out here. This morning is a case in point – it was supposed to be sunny but we’re socked in so my plans for the morning just changed a few minutes ago. Now I get to finish my culling from the Montana trip instead of heading for the island and birds. Culling almost 6,000 images sucks…