Rough-legged Hawk In Flight – A Matter Of Taste

Boy, have my tastes ever changed over the last few years!

Aesthetic taste is personal and for many it can evolve over time. Last night I realized just how much mine has changed, at least when it comes to this image.


1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this Rough-legged Hawk on Antelope Island six years ago today, soon after it took off from a boulder. Four clicks after it lifted off it passed in front of these dried sunflowers and then I lost focus on the bird.

Back then I was pretty anal about not liking any obstructions in front of my subject, to the point of absurdity. If there was “stuff” in front of my bird I didn’t post it on my blog or I deleted it and usually both. In fact that’s exactly why I never posted this photo. I’m really surprised I still have it but last night while reviewing other images I’ve taken this time of year to see what species might be available now I ran across it again.

And now I like the photo better with the sunflowers in the image than I believe I would without them. I think they add interest and context, they give us a better feel for habitat and they don’t significantly obstruct our view of the bird. Throw in the bi-layered background, a flight posture I like and good eye contact and for my tastes today it’s more than just a keeper. I don’t think it’s a great image (partly because it could be a tad sharper) but it’s a helluva lot better than I used to think it was.

Just goes to show you, even this confirmed creature of habit can change a little if given the greater part of a decade to do it.


PS – Ok, now I’m curious. This shouldn’t be just about me – have you personally noticed your aesthetic tastes (in any artistic genre) changing over time? I’m guessing that kind of evolution happens much more often with others than it does with me. But maybe not…



38 comments to Rough-legged Hawk In Flight – A Matter Of Taste

  • Becky

    Sometimes my perfectionism conflicts with my artistic side. I always have to remind myself of the old saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

  • Marty K

    50 lashes with a wet noodle for being too quick on the delete button over the years. 😉 (That’s all the flack I’m giving you — for now. 😉 )

    I am so drawn to that eye! Laura hit the nail on the head in describing the path my eye takes through this shot.

    My tastes (aesthetic and culinary) as well as my overall approach to life have definitely changed over the years. Sometimes it is hard to break old habits and neural loops, but I’m much better at letting stuff go and reminding myself that it’s “not my circus; not my monkeys.” Besides, I still have kittens to play with for the next few weeks until they’re fully “ripe.” 🙂

  • Love the context and contrast that the sunflowers bring.
    My tastes (in rather a lot of things) continue to evolve. For which I am grateful. A part of that evolution is that I am less and less often allowing other people to define what moves/pleases me. A benefit of rapidly out-aging dirt.

  • Laura Culley

    I’ve absolutely changed my attitudes about things over the last couple of decades. I think as we get older and gain more perspective overall, we slowly relax our know-it-all rigidity (come on…we ALL go through that stage and it’s more persistent with some than others) and appreciate more of life’s subtleties in general. We’re not as critical as we used to be in the context of don’t sweat the small stuff and most of it is small stuff. However, that does NOT mean we let go of our individual standards or overall ethics–or our pursuit of excellence. Instead, I think those aspects strengthen over time. But we can appreciate life’s messier elements.
    In this case, what you used to think of as clutter now adds a subtle depth of understanding about the overall environment of where these hawks live that just wouldn’t be available with a clean background. The sunflowers aren’t intrusive, nor do they detract from the hawk’s elegance and grace. The hawk DEMANDS first attention and the eye wanders around from there before returning to the sheer wondrous beauty of the hawk. The sunflowers do not rise to the level of noise at all. They’re not busy, demanding more attention in the photo. They’re just there, as they would be in life, adding a dimension of reality.
    And like Susan said, you are an artist (among other delightful things). And art changes and grows as we widen our perspectives!
    I think also that perfection doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect–not sure how to express that idea. I guess what I’m saying is that perfection doesn’t have to be empty of detail? That’s about the best I can do this morning.
    And we all shudder at what you’ve discarded over the years! We would all love to dive into your discarded bin!!

    • Your comment was well said in its entirety, Laura. And I particularly loved this: “perfection doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect”. At first glance there’s a contradiction there but when you think about it there really isn’t, necessarily.

  • I tend to get into a rut. A friend of mine recently took up photography. Right now he’s just taking his camera out and shooting pretty much whatever random thing he sees. Unknowingly, he’s breaking all the “standard” rules of composition. And you know what? I actually like what he’s doing! It’s refreshing. And thought provoking. I think I need to break more rules. And be less predictable. I do like your shot. I’m drawn straight to the eye.

  • Dick Ashford

    Hi Ron,
    To paraphrase Will Rogers, I’ve never met a roughie I didn’t like. IMHO, it’s a great image of a beautiful bird. As far as changing tastes go, I have always felt that Rock and Roll will never die but, somehow a classical music station has found its way to one of the presets on my car radio. I only listen in moderation, though. They say that too much classical music can harm your ears and lead to juvenile delinquency…

    • “They say that too much classical music can harm your ears and lead to juvenile delinquency”

      Loved that, Dick! As for me I think I’ll mostly stick to good ol’ R&R.

  • Mikal Deese

    Yes well, thank heaven (or whatever) we can grow and change. My career was working as a studio goldsmith making hand-fabricated art jewelry, working in high karat golds, platinum, expensive gemstones. 14 karat was too tacky to wear or work with, only 18 karat or above would do. NOW I collect and wear plastic, as long as it has a BIRD on it!

  • Susan Stone

    I like this shot a lot, including the fact that the sunflowers add context. I’m not sure my artistic taste has changed that much over the years, other than a broadening of the subjects I find interesting. However, my tastes in food have changed quite a lot – some foods I used to like I can’t deal with any more, and others I’ve come to like better (some of that is physical changes as I’ve aged). I think part of the reason my artistic tastes haven’t changed much is that I’m not as focused on any kind of artwork as much as you are on your photographs. Artistic things are the center of your life, where they are somewhat more peripheral in mine.

    • You make several interesting points, Susan. My food tastes have changed too, even broadened, but there are some foods that will NEVER become intimate with my taste buds.

      • Marty K

        “but there are some foods that will NEVER become intimate with my taste buds.” Oh, do tell, Ron! Now I’m curious! 🙂

        • Off the top of my head – canned spinach, canned asparagus, yams, sweet potatoes (I know what those last two LOOK like!), head cheese, blood sausage, kimchi, Hawaiian pizza, mutton, Spanish rice, tripe, sushi (I know too much about parasites like the fish tapeworm). There are others…

          • My father LOVED blood sausage/black pudding. Bleah. Even before I turned vegetarian, offal was firmly on my off list. And the memory of a piece of liver which was served to me for three consecutive meals still haunts my dreams.

          • “offal was firmly on my off list”

            I adore your way with words, EC!

          • Susan Stone

            Ron, you should not get parasites from saltwater fish (which, by the way is sashimi; sushi refers to the rice), unless what I learned in college years ago is wrong. My understanding is that the parasite issue has to do with eating raw freshwater fish. Saltwater parasites could not survive in our freshwater bodies.

  • Joanne OBrien

    I did documentary street photography when I was in art college and for a little while afterwards (tried to get a grant, ha-ha) In that genre environment is everything. So my taste is a weird hybrid. I love looking at the birds but I do prefer them in their environment. The ultimate to me is to capture a songbird inside the tangle vines and leaves that is their world. But then try to do it poetically and with grace. Wicked Hahhd.(As we say in these parts.) Anyway… I am on the side of the sunflowers in the photo!! Nice work! Thanks

  • Sharon Constant

    I love this image! Something about birds flying low to the ground (even if it’s a take off and not sustained flying as with northern harriers) makes my heart beat just a little faster.

    • I agree Sharon, although I do know why I tend to prefer those kinds of shots. It’s because I’m not particularly fond of backgrounds that include nothing but featureless sky.

  • Zaphir Shamma

    An interesting question. I don’t think in terms of composition or subject my tastes have changed. When I look back at photos from 2-3 years ago, I shudder that I posted them. There is noise, visible signs of post processing and incorrect exposure (just to name a few). I think I’ve changed over the years in how I post process images and what I will post and be comfortable with. My technique and equipment has improved over the years, so I am better able to get it “right in the camera” which is the best foundation to work on. I don’t think we’ll ever stop growing Ron…and that’s a good thing. Another decade to you Sir I wish…so you can reflect back on photos you are posting now and let us know your thoughts 🙂

    • “Sir I wish…so you can reflect back on photos you are posting now and let us know your thoughts”

      Boy, isn’t THAT an interesting possibility, Zaphir – for both of us!

      And huge congrats on your new 600mm lens!

  • The sunflower seed heads make this image…the only thing I might have done would have been to move the image (crop it) to the left a Ittle more….(Glad you changed your mind about context!–things in front of subject). We all evolve as artist…you are very much an artist!)….

  • Judy Gusick

    Gorgeous shot Ron! 🙂 Yes, my tastes have evolved in many areas including what I photograph and what I “like”. Think some of it is getting down the technical issues and what “should” be a good/great photo which now includes more than “just the bird” even if the bird is still the center of focus. I REALLY like having some “context” and, when I think about it, enjoy those photo’s more even if I’ve never really thought about it.

  • Elmer Deloso

    I must be getting to that age as well since I feel the same with my photos of birds showing something/anything about the surroundings. Very nice shot (and mistake of not deleting this one).

  • Charlotte Norton

    It’s a fabulous flight shot Ron!