Red-tailed Hawk – A Cliff Takeoff

Photographing these hawks against the cliff background was both challenging and frustrating.


1/1250/ f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Late last March I spent some time with a pair of Red-tailed Hawks while they were refurbishing an old nest on the side of a vertical cliff. The rocks behind the nest were about the same color as the hawks so the birds often didn’t stand out very well against the similar background. In addition the rocks were so close to the nest that the background tended to be almost as sharp as the birds which compounded the problem (a soft, blurred background tends to isolate the subject and set it apart).

I like this image better than most I took at the nest because two factors helped to mitigate the problem of isolating the bird against the background:

  • The hawk took off at an angle slightly toward me so it’s further away from the cliff than it was while on the nest. Since I was lucky enough to keep my focus locked on the bird with the background that close (not an easy task) the hawk was a little sharper than the rocks from the get-go
  • Instead of sharpening the entire image during processing (global sharpening) I sharpened just the bird by masking it first (selective sharpening). Doing so increased the sharpening contrast between hawk and background and helped it to stand out even more

I still have the problem of mostly similar colors throughout the photo (plus a busy background) but for me the completely natural setting more than compensates for those issues. I love the “wildness” of the image since there isn’t even a hint of the hand of man to be seen.




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