Spotlight Effect On A Prairie Falcon

I was darned lucky to get this kind of lighting on a truly wild subject.

Birds have been slow around here so I’ve been struggling to locate interesting subjects in the wild. I’ve mentioned before that one of my strategies is to review my archives for this date on previous years to see what I might be able to find now and in what location. That’s how I came across this Prairie Falcon image last night, taken on the Antelope Island causeway 6 years ago on 12/5/11. I posted a couple of photos of this bird long ago but this one (and this backward-looking pose) is new to my blog.


1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I had to get quite close to the falcon to even see it over the edge of the causeway road but it was calm and relaxed for the entire 15 minutes or so I spent with it. Part of the reason for that was because it was mostly in the shade when I first encountered it (I believe birds often feel safer in the shade) but by the time this shot was taken the sun had reached all of the bird except its tail and wingtips. Since most of the background and perch are still shaded it created a spotlight effect on the falcon that I like a lot.

Usually when light from the rising sun begins to reach a subject the interface between light and shade is so diffuse that its demarcation wouldn’t be nearly this dramatic. But in this case the sun was coming up over the elevated road only a few feet away so that dividing line between the warmly lit bird and the mostly shaded perch and background is abrupt and almost theatrical.

In studio photography this kind of spotlight effect usually requires a cooperative subject willing to take posing directions and elaborate lighting setups or extreme manipulation during processing (or both). All I’ve done during processing is crop and sharpen without even doing any exposure adjustments so I feel privileged to have encountered these conditions in the field with such a wild and generally skittish and uncooperative subject.


PS – If subscribers to my blog notice what time you received my email with the link to this post (3:26 AM) you may be curious as to why I’m up so damned early. Thanks to the side effects of the Prednisone I’m taking for a bad back (it’s more complicated than that) I’ve been wide awake since before 1 AM and up since 1:40 so I figured I might as well work on my post and get it published.

It’s going to be a very long day…




53 comments to Spotlight Effect On A Prairie Falcon

  • Sharon Constant


  • Beth Ann Doerring

    Wow! Awesome! I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to your blogs!

  • Prednisone? Sigh. I had it intravenously a few times. Not fun. I hope it helps you. And, as a side issue, the blow up effect (temporarily) removed my wrinkles. I hope your pain eases.
    Love, love, love the photo you found. Dramatic and beautiful.

  • Gorgeous light on a beautiful bird. Very nicely done.

    I suffer from insomnia, too. Different cause. My late friend, Dr. Bill Doolittle (yes, really), used to say that “Medicine is bad for you” and that you should only take it if the alternative is worse. Prednisone is a good example of what Bill was talking about. A close call. Evil side effects.

    • That’s pretty much my philosophy too, WC – and has been all mo life. I rarely even took aspirin until I started taking that daily low dose they recommend now for us old folks…

  • Len Boeder

    Wonderful picture! I know how skittish they can be.

  • Sorry about back pain….know what that, and hip pain, is like….hip was fixed with surgery and have not had as much difficulty with back pain as I used to…related? Still, sleeping well, awaking refreshed, eludes me…that back pain stuff is the pits!!! When the commercial comes on asking if “you have the following” conditions, I just flinch because I’ve been told by a spine surgeon that I have them all…”.surgery(invasive) could only fix some of them…and no guarantees…..”

  • Dick Harlow

    Pain sucks, made up for with this shot! I know, I know been there, awhile back I was so bent over the only way I could get around was on my hands and knees, even then the pain subsisted.
    I am going to raise a glass of wine to your health and progression on your back!!
    Absolutely beautiful falcon with morning sun on its chest, not at all bothered by you!
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Marina schultz

    Beautiful !!!!!! I lost my folder with my prairie falcons .. I have no idea where it went.. and about prednisone.. it’s a wonder drug !! Love it just makes me fat so by stimulating my appetite

  • Susan Stone

    What a beautiful shot! The lighting is definitely unusual, and good for the subject. I’m sorry you aren’t sleeping well. I was up part of that time with you (though not doing anything useful), and I’m thinking that there is definitely a nap in the works for later on. Or maybe more than one nap…

    • Susan, you may hear me snoring about 5 minutes after I’m through responding to these comments. Frustrating that I couldn’t sleep most of the night and then couldn’t keep my eyes open all morning while I was out shooting.

  • April Olson

    Beautiful lighting. This is the time of morning when I am getting soft focus, especially on the causeway and at FBWMA. I have attributed it to air quality lately.

    Sorry about the back and sleepless nights. Having Rheumatoid Arthritis I love Prednisone. When I am on it nothing hurts and I have endless energy. It is coming off it I hate, for me it is either a rebound effect or I realize how much I hurt all the time and it takes time to block out the ache again.

  • This is a very beautiful image…largely because of the dramtic lighting and the very sculptural-looking rock…

  • frank sheets

    Wonderful shot here Ron. An early bird special. No pun intended.

    Sorry about the back pain and sleep issue. I made it till 4:30 and was pleased. No back pain here, but left shoulder and left hip issues seem chronic. Shoulder issue makes lifting long lenses a literal pain. If you try the CBD oil, I would be curious whether it helps. You probably know better than I, but I understand long exposures to prednisone is not a good thing.

    As they say, getting old is not for kids.

    • Long exposure to even moderate doses of Prednisone can have horrid side effects, Frank. At least one member of my extended family learned that from experience.

  • Robert (RJ) Davis

    I’m picturing a distressing number of restless human “night-owls” rousing their feathers and stretching on their padded perches in front of warming computers waiting for dawn. Sorry for your back troubles Ron, and for everyone with similar complaints. I do not have a remedy for back pain, but for sleeplessness in Canada, many hit TIM’s coffee shop for a “double-double’ and perhaps a maple glazed donut. Great photo! Great blog!

  • Laura Culley

    Just OH WOW! I so want to fly a tiercel (male) prairie and this GORGEOUS image just ignites that passion again. Just WOW! WONDROUS! And what a lucky encounter (luck is where preparation meets opportunity). Don’t you just love sunrise? EGADS what gorgeous joys await those who rise when it’s still dark!! And sunsets…how they make the reds of a redtail hawk POP! Earth is a very cool place!
    I’ve been up all night babysitting randomly screaming smoke alarms. I just didn’t go near the computer. Since I can’t reach high enough to deal with the problem(s), my only choice is to wait for help to become available.
    Jack didn’t get much sleep, either. The alarm that sets the rest of them off is in HIS bedroom. It’s just at freezing temps now, so it’s too cold for him to be outside. I refuse to take any avoidable chances with his health and well-being, but we’re both going to have to have a big nap before this afternoon!

    • Laura Culley

      I meant to add that I’m so sorry you’re having big back pain and prednisone is no picnic. That said, it is the magic bullet for RA…it’s just that it has so many ugly other things going on. I sincerely hope it helps you tomorrow night. When my pain gets bad, I’ve got the ugly pain killers that mostly work, at least enough to calm it down to where it’s just annoying, but those are carrying big problems now since so many people have abused them. Personally, it never crosses my mind to reach for those unless the pain is BIG and then I tend to let it sit on the computer for a while. They don’t work so well there 🙂
      Time to punch the offending smoke alarm again. DARGH!

  • Diane Bricmont

    Spectacular, Ron! Simply spectacular. Aren’t feathers wonderful? Been there, done that with the back pain. Swimming really seems to bring me relief. (Followed by an extra donut and a nap, of course!)

  • Prednisone…ugh. I’ve had to take it. I have just started with CBD oil for my own pain issues. I have heard so many good things that I am taking it for a spin. I have to say that I took the first last night and woke up with significantly less pain. We shall see. This is a gorgeous shot of a lovely bird. It looks cozy to me.

  • Marty K

    I’ve been up since 3 a.m., so I get it. And I get it when pain interrupts your day too. I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Hopefully, this gorgeous shot can help. I do vouch for the double-donut-dose though. 😉

    Hang in there!

    • I’m afraid one donut is my limit, Marty – more than that and I overdose.

      However, speaking of donuts, my local Smith’s grocery store has started making super-duper donuts that are about 4 times larger than normal. Maybe they’re trying to tempt me…

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful bird/photo Ron. 🙂 Losing sleep over pain/pills is NOT amusing. 🙁 Hopefully they can get a handle on it soon. I made it to 4:30 and effects are already showing – this is my 3rd shot at a reply! I turn into a real drifty witch when I lose sleep! We still have what I think are rough legs in the vicinity and saw a grey ghost over a field near by yesterday.

    • Ha, sounds like you need some coffee, Judy! Mine is long gone already.

      Wow, I thought your Roughies would have flown the coop by now (but maybe that’s why they’re still there – seems like I remember that you have chickens…) 🙂

      • Judy Gusick

        It is pretty late for most hawks around here – probably why I noticed! That being said we still have a single Robin, a Gold Finch, a Dove, and a little “creeper” that looks a lot like a Chickadee around – VERY strange. Do have come coffee now…………..:)

  • Gail Rich

    The lighting is gorgeous! I can empathize with your bad back. I’m having a spinal injection tomorrow.

  • Laurel Crouch

    Been up since 4:30 myself , same reason . ahhh , the wonders of modern medicine ! Wonderful photo though !

  • Elmer Deloso

    I’d get up at 1am if I can get a shot like this (and even take Prednisone). Truly beautiful shot not just with the lighting but with a rare subject as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • jake schas

    Ron, Due to work, I am up 2 hours earlier than normal. Was wondering why your blog was already there. Hope a nap is in your future.
    Or maybe an extra doughnut. jake

    • Ha, extra donuts is a therapy I’ve never tried, Jake. Whether it worked or not at least it would taste a helluva lot better than that nasty prednisone!

  • CJ

    So sorry about your back, Ron. I’m having a sleepless night myself, and what a lovely surprise to have your beautiful photo pop up in my inbox.