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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taking Flight


Miguel Lasa may be a physician by training, but he’s a top wildlife photographer by avocation

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One of Miguel Lasa’s specialties is wild snowy owls; in fact, he used to conduct wild snowy owl photo workshops in Canada. Snowies present an exposure challenge. Lasa meets it by using plus exposure compensation and the histogram. He doesn’t use flash for snowy owls because the snow serves as a handy fill reflector.
If you visit Miguel Lasa’s website, you’ll find some amazing photos of ospreys, snowy owls, bald eagles and other birds swooping and diving and battling and just generally being birds. Many pro photographers photograph birds, and do it amazingly well. But UK-based Lasa has a talent for bringing the viewer right into the middle of the action with his photos and capturing the birds’ “personalities” as well as their motions.

Lasa spends much of his “spare time” out in the field (he’s a family physician by profession), often far afield, enjoying wildlife and making terrific photos. Besides birds, he also photographs bears, big cats and other animals—in fact, he recently won the “Creative Visions of Nature” category in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 competition with a gorgeous and unique shot of a rim-lit polar bear. He tracks down exotic birds and beasties in far-flung locales—Finland for ospreys, Alaska for bald eagles and brown bears, Canada for snowy owls and polar bears, India, Tanzania and even his native Spain. But his techniques and tips (see the “Bird-Action Photos” sidebar) can be applied to photographing flying birds anywhere.

Passion, Patience And Research
“You need to really enjoy what you’re doing so you can spend a lot of time out in the field,” Lasa says. “I sometimes have to wait many days, even weeks, for the right moments. If you don’t enjoy being out there, it’s difficult to get the shots.”

Lasa photographs bald eagles in Alaska. Many tours will get you to the birds, but capturing powerful photos requires knowledge of eagle behavior, a good sense of timing and long lenses. It also takes lots of patience to get dramatic shots of people-shy wild birds and sometimes use of a blind.
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To capture some species, Lasa must spend long hours in a blind, or hide. “You have to enter the hide while it’s still dark, then stay there until it’s dark again,” he says. “Birds have memories, and if they see someone entering or leaving the hide, they’ll stay away.”

A big believer in research, Lasa tries to learn all he can about a species and its behavior and habitat. “Some are easy to photograph, some are not,” he says. “Some are found only in specific locations or are most easily found there. Research will help you find birds and photograph them.”

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