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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Eagle Eyes

George Lepp shows how to use extra-long focal lengths to empower natural history photography

This Article Features Photo Zoom

14,336mm! Interesting close-up of a 9-week eaglet, but usable only as an example of exceeding the limits. Canon EOS 7D (1.6X crop factor) with EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L and three EF 2X tele-extenders plus one EF 1.4X tele-extender.
Ridiculous Millimeters
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. But it's always fun to experiment. Just to see how far I could go, I put all my tele-extenders on an 800mm lens and attached them to a Canon EOS 7D camera body. It took two tripods to support the whole rig, and at 14,336mm, it's very difficult to focus on the subject, if you can find the subject at all. So I used a Hoodman loupe on the LCD to find this 9-week eaglet in the nest and a CamRanger for the final capture. The result isn't really usable, but it's interesting.
It Takes A Village
Within two weeks, it was apparent the adults were brooding eggs; two youngsters hatched in the second week of April. I spent the interval doing my research on eagle biology and nesting behavior and laying the groundwork with officials responsible for the area. As the eaglets grew and the project advanced, I built productive new relationships with park rangers and state biologists, and began a lasting friendship with the great ladies who open the local Starbucks before sunrise every morning. A loose network of local photographers got involved in the project, sharing information, celebrating milestones and acting as "docents" at the viewing area to inform visitors. Canon USA gave support by loaning an 800mm ƒ/5.6L lens for the duration of the project.

Spring turned to summer. The chicks grew from tiny, innocent lumps of fuzz to big, fluffy bundles of attitude. I worked to achieve different perspectives on the story—long-lens approaches, video sequences, feeding, grooming, interactions, hunting forays by the adults, inquisitive predators, sunrise time-lapses—all while enjoying the early-morning beauty and peace of the area. The eagles' neighbors—marmots, squirrels, deer, river otters and many other birds—revealed themselves. The youngsters fledged at the end of June, and by that time, I had made 32 trips (1,700 miles) to the site and spent some 120 hours observing the nest. The eagles endured it all with grace, and the local newspaper celebrated the fledging with a good news article on the front page, using some of my images.

The Happy Ending
So, here it is, mid-winter again, and I'm looking back at another successful life-history project. I appreciate everyone who helped to bring it all together: Wildlife officials open to responsible photographers, a community that treasures nature, colleagues who share information and expertise, sponsors who support my work and, best of all, a magazine that cares enough to publish it. Thanks, OP!

Ridiculous. Here I am with the ultimate setup, at least for now.

See the video: George Lepp captured both stills and video concurrently throughout this project. For a different perspective, see the video on the OPTV section of the outdoorphotographer.com website.


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